Monday 17 May 2021

Undergods (UK/Belgium/Estonia/Serbia/Sweden: Dir Chino Moya)

A Spanish Renaissance Man in the making, Chino Moya's CV includes short films, commercials, music videos and, as of 2019, a comic book ('Flat Filters'); a book of photography is to follow later this year. That the inspiring, funny and tragic Undergods is his first feature is both surprising and inevitable, in that as a debut it is incredibly assured, and combines elements of all of his disciplines.

Within its bleak urban environment, whose ruined, almost post apocalyptic cityscape frames the movie, a pair of body collectors patrol the streets picking up the dead. The area in which they operate is the setting for a number of stories, both connected and isolated, a Raymond Carver-esque collection of glimpses into the dystopia of 'modern' living that features a series of fractured households: a man is threatened by a neighbour who has locked himself out and moves in for the weekend, possessing his wife in the process; a businessman who steals plans for a new development results in the abduction of his daughter and imprisonment of her boyfriend; and, in the longest segment, a man battles with the return of his wife's first husband and sees his life and ambitions disintegrate as a result.

Undergods isn't a film for those interested in tidy endings and well rounded characters; the inhabitants of Moya's movie are rough sketches at best and, like the films of Swedish director Roy Andersson - surely an inspiration - exist purely to contribute to a world vision which suggests that the future is a very bleak place indeed.

But that's not to suggest that Undergods isn't without a dark wit, which increasingly finds its locus in the narrative: a frame within a frame device has a father tell a (clearly made up) story to his daughter that reflects the twists and turns of the movie's narrative, mirroring the construction of what we're watching, and the first and last stories are variations of an absurd upsetting of the Shakesperean theme of the cuckolded huband.

Moya's cast are spot on in their dour depictions of citizens whose ugliness lurks internally and occasionally externally; the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet come to mind. The standout here is Kate Dickie - an actress known for challenging roles - and her portrayal of Rachel, from the last story. Her reaction to the return of her silent husband from an institution tips the episode, for the first and only time in the film, into psychological horror and, eventually, tragedy; it's the high (or low, depending on your point of view) point of a film which has already offered up its fair share of bleak vignettes. Praise too for the bleak synthwave soundtrack of Polish composer Wojciech Golczewski (Beyond the Gates, We Are Still Here) whose arid compositions perfectly underscore the bleak lives of Moya's inscrutable and sometimes wretched characters. Brilliant.

Undergods is released in selected cinemas and on demand from 17 May 2021. A limited-edition Blu-ray and vinyl soundtrack are also planned for later in the year.

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