Film Review: ‘The Similars’

Film Review: ‘The Similars’
After several shorts, Mexico City writer-director Isaac Ezban made fantasy fans sit up and take notice with his arresting 2014 feature debut, “The Incident.” “The Similars” likewise hinges on a “Twilight Zone”-like suspense conceit of characters trapped by some sort of tear in everyday reality’s fabric — this time leaving them stuck in a remote 1968 bus station under increasingly desperate (and ridiculous) circumstances. A more conspicuously retro-stylized, absurdist exercise than “The Incident,” this sophomore effort will also stir considerable enthusiasm from adventurous genre fans in its extensive fantasy-fest tour, with limited theatrical and niche home-format release to follow. But some may find the premise wears thinner sooner here, and worry that Ezban might be typing himself as over-reliant on narrative gimmickry, like a hipper Mexican cousin to M. Night Shyamalan.

A massive thunderstorm has paralyzed all transit, stranding a handful of travelers and staff at a regional depot. At first the somnambulant stationmaster,
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Film review: 'Esmeralda ...

Intermittently engaging, occasionally surrealistic and briefly erotic, Fine Line's "Esmeralda Comes by Night" is about a 42-year-old woman who has five husbands and almost manages a sixth. A showcase for veteran Mexican stage and screen star Maria Rojo -- who has made several films with writer-director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo -- but not sensational enough to easily market, the subtitled limited release won't attract many non-Spanish-speaking viewers, indicating a short honeymoon in most theatrical engagements.

Hermosillo favors long takes and chatty characters -- a deadly combination for some. It doesn't help that the salacious material is softened to resemble a sexy fairy tale and the heroine is so happy all the time that there's not much tension. Based on a short story by Elena Poniatowska, the film opens with night-shift nurse Esmeralda (Rojo) waking up in the arms of law student Pedro (Ernesto Laguardia), her fifth husband and the only one suspicious enough to follow her when she leaves one morning.

Stopping at her father's place to change into a wedding gown, Esmeralda takes a taxi to church, where bridegroom No. 6 awaits. Pedro follows her and demands that she be arrested when he discovers what she's doing. In custody, but still smiling and not at all worried, Esmeralda is interviewed by a shocked Chief Inspector (Claudio Obregon), who expects her to be ashamed and repentant. She's anything but apologetic, with the bulk of the movie recounting her exploits and profiling the men in her life.

With nifty flashbacks wherein the inspector and stenographer Lucita (Martha Navarro) become interested observers and soon voyeurs of Esmeralda's sometimes racy stories, the nonlinear structure includes welcome touches of magic realism -- from Esmeralda's flower-sprouting dress to other displays of her magic. Too often, however, the pace is slowed by static shots of characters going through routine exchanges of dialogue, while one waits for the plot to go off on another unexpected but not always enchanting tangent.

So potent a woman that she can carry on with a committed gay man (Humberto Pineda) who married her for convenience, Esmeralda is a lying, cheating angel of love with the soul of a saint. Not surprisingly, the public and sundry husbands rally around her. "Polygamy is the future" reads one sign held by a supporter, and for some viewers, the message of "love without limits" will be refreshingly tolerant if somewhat radical.

Although Esmeralda emerges spiritually unscathed and even morally superior to the conservative inspector, she has a few too many husbands for the good of the movie. From Alberto Estrella as a charismatic pop musician to Pedro Armendariz Jr. as a boisterous Italian opera star, the heroine's most interesting mates don't get enough screen time.


Fine Line Features

Resonancia Prods.

Writer-director: Jaime Humberto Hermosillo

Executive producers: Carlos Taibo, Fernando Camara Sanchez, Salvador de la Fuente

Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet

Art director: Lourdes Almeida

Editors: Sebastian Garza, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo

Costume designer: Federico Castillo

Music: Omar Guzman



Esmeralda: Maria Rojo

Chief Inspector: Claudio Obregon

Jaime: Alberto Estrella

Don Virginio: Roberto Cobo

Jorge Luis: Humberto Pineda

Antonio: Pedro Armendariz Jr.

Lucita: Martha Navarro

Pedro: Ernesto Laguardia

Running time -- 106 minutes

MPAA rating: R

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