Sebastian Silva and Michael Cera Make Magic in 2013

It’s hard enough to imagine producing and filming one movie in a year as an independent filmmaker, but two? Somehow, Sebastian Silva managed to accomplish that in 2013 with his two widely different films Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and Magic Magic. The two films have similarities in that they both are based in Chile – Silva’s country of origin, both star Michael Cera, and both focus on different anxieties of travel and growing up. However theme and tone between the two could not be more polar.

I’ll begin with Magic Magic as I watched this one first. I’ve recently developed a huge girl crush on Juno Temple, as I think she’s an immensely talented if yet still underrated actress on the rise. So while creeping her ouvre I came along this film. And while the rating was low, the cinematography from the trailer alone was enough to entice me into giving it a shot.

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I found the colour composition and symbolism in this film to be extremely beautiful, and possibly the best quality of this film altogether. The film follows Alicia’s first time travels to Chile to visit her cousin. She finds herself at odds however, by loneliness, an inability to connect with the new people she’s meeting and a increasing detachment from reality. At the same time, can you blame her? Cera does an amazing job at being a creepy weirdo in this film. A role I haven’t seen him play before without some kind of comedic undertones. This is just plain creepy. Would you want to be friends with this dude?

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I feel as if the film’s failure commerically came not from a lack of plot or any other significant short-coming on the filmmaker’s part, but rather the classic mis-marketing curse. The film’s trailer displays this as one of those “is she crazy or is there some sadistic cult happening?” thriller-mystery-dichotomy movies. It is anything but. In fact the film is pretty straightforward in it’s approach to Alicia’s mental state: she is not well. But character’s such as Cera’s Brink are not helping the situation, certainly. If you’ve ever known anyone with a delicate mental state, or even just traveled yourself and felt… culture shock, or complete detachment from your surroundings this film will possibly move you.  It also ends on a fairly ambiguous note depending on how you wish to interpret it, which I could see as a sore spot for the more conventional cinema lovers. I, however, revel in a film which is challenging, and especially films in which I may hate the ending. They force you to really think about why the conclusions upset you.

The second film, actually made first (in fact, Magic Magic was being funded while this movie was still filming, Cera also apparently learned Spanish on set), Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus a much more light-hearted and fun move. I had a debate recently with a friend who had also seen the film, and absolutely hated Cera’s character, Jamie, in that they felt he was misplaced. I could see this point of view, I, on the other hand, loved him in this role as well as in Magic Magic in that he seems to be breaking out of his regular awkward shy guy character-archetypes. It seems natural however that viewers will either love him or hate him.

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As mentioned the film follow’s Jamie as he travels through Chile. At a party he meets the overtly hippy American girl who introduces herself as Crystal Fairy. He drunkenly decides to invite this girl along on the road-trip he has planned with his buddies he’s met in Chile: A trip to find and consume the magical cactus peyote. The film quickly becomes a battle of personalities between Jamie and Crystal – One is a wound up impatient dude, the other a laid back “spiritual” girl. I actually found both character’s to be highly unbearable in their own ways: and I think this was the point of the film. Neither of them are “right” and neither of them are “wrong” but they learn how to love and accept one another, thanks in part to the peyote, of course.

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My favourite part of the film is when they finally consume the magical drug. And if anyone has ever done any psychedelics before will be able to relate to the events that unfold: a total breakdown of normal thinking, becoming totally vulnerable, being entertained by the smallest and seemingly most wonderful things, a breakdown in simple cognition, and, naturally, a strong desire to get naked. The film is a wonderful story in which the two character’s learn to appreciate and understand one another when they let go of an overbearing facade, and actually let their vulnerability show, to which they are ultimately both shown love and support.

I found this film to be less striking visually, as well as less shocking, but thematically more approachable and enjoyable. In the end it’s almost a take on the classic road-trip movie, as they’re not the same people who started on the trip to begin with.

Now my only query, or perhaps concern with Silva’s two films is that as a Chilean director, other than locale, the films have essentially nothing to do with Chile. The Chilean characters that are interspersed throughout both films often come off as flat and static. Not a whole lot of culture is engaged with. This doesn’t seem purposeful so much as negligent, as these actors are unable to come out of the shadow of the Hollywood counterpoints. Even Catalina Moreno, in Magic Magic, a very well recognized actress comes off as little more than a background bitch.

Either way, I see Silva as a very promising director. Not perfect, but I am excited to see what else he has to say about our generation, and what other films he wishes to pursue. Because so far based on these two films, he’s willing to take on some pretty interesting topics (travel, insanity, drugs, identity, etc) with surprising restrain and maturity.