A humorous road movie spliced with moments of magical realism, The Soul of Flies is the promising directorial debut from young Spanish film-maker Jonathan Cenzual Burley. Deprived production value congruent with the film’s miniscule budget is redeemed by an interesting concept and luscious panoramas of the Spanish countryside.
The film opens with an elderly man reflecting on his life as he peruses through old photographs as an antique record player whirls in the corner. A regular Don Juan in his debauched youth, he fathered two sons by two different women and in a moment of forlorn clarity he hatches a plan to reunite his wayward seeds. His dying wish is to bring them together at his funeral; they would never know their father but at least they would have each gained a brother.
The morose Miguel (Javier Saez) and the jovial Nero (Andrea Calabrese) meet at a derelict train station and so commences the physical and metaphorical journey – a prerequisite of any road movie. A fraternal comradeship forms as the pair embark on a mad-capped adventure, rife with bizarre encounters, as they struggle to reach their destination.
The Soul of Flies is a low budget romp but with poignant technical and thematic elements. Although some scenes come across faintly slapdash, writer-director Cenzuel-Burley accomplishes moments that are visually striking. The camera tracks across the Spanish horizon as the duo are silhouetted on a moped that fizzes across the screen and a little old lady is finely pictured sitting outside by a telephone awaiting news of their arrival. Completely shot on location with non-actors it has a distinctly art-house feel but there is a salient attention to framing as hazy twilights and indigo dawns are spectacularly captured.
The practical and discerning Miguel is juxtaposed with the romantic and affable Nero leading to flashes of tender philosophical discussion. Their road is one of self-discovery. It is, however, an absurd comedy. Like something out of a Groucho Marx film they befriend a gormless, suicidal narcoleptic before they are accosted by a band of musical bandits. Cenzuel-Burley’s writing is clearly influenced by the magical realism of Latin American fiction and it is these moments of poetic fantasy that sets this road-movie apart. Nero has a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams who ‘smells of sunflowers’ and the brothers meet with an apparition of their father after running out of petrol.
Dissected in to chapters with a narrator guiding their voyage, the film has a novelistic charm which, despite its frailties, should be lauded for its imaginative style. Sitting firmly within the mantle of independent cinema The Soul of Flies is an encouraging debut feature, certainly rough around the edges, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Best performance: For a non-professional actor Andrea Calabrese impresses as the charismatic Nero.
Watch this if you liked: The Motorcycle Diaries but with the production value of Breathless (1960) with a pinch of Groucho Marx absurdity.