Celeste’s bestselling sleuth Felipe Aranda is supposed to be the good guy, but
he might be more akin to Stephen King’s Dark
Half. The man who posed for a series of pictures inspired by Celeste’s
books seems to take the role way too seriously, especially when the author
hints he may soon end the popular series. Celeste begins to suspect the man of
crimes both new and old in Javier Fuentes-León’s The Vanished Elephant (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
one case the ex-cop turned mystery novelist never cracked was the 2007 disappearance
of his fiancée Celia Espinoza. The timing was particular unfortunate, occurring
during an earthquake that rocked coastal Peru. It turns out it also coincided with
the presumed death of Mara de Barclay’s first husband. Celeste was blissfully
unaware of this fact until the remarried Barclay had her strong arm servants
arrange a meeting. She was rather baffled to receive an envelope addressed to Celeste
bearing her supposedly late husband’s handwriting.
assortment of cryptic photographs inside does not immediately stimulate Celeste’s
curiosity, but he will get to them in good time. However, he is instantly
struck by Rafael Pineda, the tough talking model, who is a perfect dead ringer
for the Aranda Celeste always imagined. As he investigates the shady Pineda,
events start to parallel his Aranda novels, including the one he is currently
much viewers will enjoy Elephant depends
on what they value most in mystery-thrillers, the structure and conventions or
the trappings and atmosphere. Fuentes-León creates a terrifically moody vibe,
but the film evolves into a series of increasingly intricate Lynchian mind teasers,
which are quite clever if you enjoy that sort of gamesmanship. More
conventional audiences should be warned, Celeste will never gather together his
suspects to give them the “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you all
there are really intriguing clues dispersed throughout the film, such as the
titular subplot revolving around a pachyderm shaped rock formation in Paracas
that supposedly really crumbled into the ocean during the earthquake, but
remains unconfirmed by google. There are similarly strange bits and pieces that
stick in your head even more than grand reveal it all builds towards.
del Solar might set a new world’s record for jaded world-weariness as the
haggard Celeste. He convincingly carries himself like an ex-cop and looks
reasonably intelligent doing some reckless things. Likewise, Lucho Cáceres
projects the right sort of vague, hard to define menace as Pineda (or should
that be Aranda).
While Fuentes-León’s feature debut Undertow was quite a nice little film,
nothing about it would lead viewers to expect a follow-up like Elephant. He smoothly stages some
remarkably complicated scenes, while maintaining a satisfyingly noir vibe.
Cinematographer Mauricio Vidal gives it all a soft, mysterious look, while art
director Susana Torres provides a lot of cool stuff, like a painting of the
Vanished Elephant. It all makes for quite an effectively strange film.
Recommended for mystery fans with a taste for postmodernism, The Vanished Elephant screens again
tomorrow (9/8) and next Sunday (9/14) during this year’s TIFF.
Labels: Film Noir, Peruvian Cinema, TIFF '14