The Fantastic World of Juan Orol, directed by Sebastian del Amo, is a charming tribute to a forgotten screen master. Though it is a film with a lot going for it, it inevitably struggles to compare to its counterpart, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
The Fantastic World of Juan Orol follows the life of Juanito Orol (Roberto Sosa) who, as a boy, was sent away by his mother to Cuba. After experiencing a number of careers including baseball and bull fighting, Juan eventually moves back to Mexico and begins a career in the film industry. Struggling with money and lust, Juan eventually reaches moderate success for his new genre of ‘tropical gangster’ films.
It is great to see cult wonders like Orol depicted in their chosen medium. Although Orol has obviously been overshadowed in the English-speaking world by the likes of Ed Wood and largely forgotten by the general public, his list of almost 60 works make him one of the most interesting figures in film history.
The film itself is stylish and well shot. Filmed and edited in a traditional style, The Fantastic World of Juan Orol does a great job at capturing the essence of early cinema. The film shifts effortlessly from greyscale to colour, representing the changing face of film technology. This was an interesting stylistic choice that adds a certain magical, surreal quality to the film, fitting for Orol, who was dubbed ‘The Involuntary Surrealist’.
The film has a few interesting special effects, such as showing years passing via car number plates and having the imagined gangster alter-ego of Orol appear in coloured sections even though he himself is still in black and white. Post-production was obviously a big deal for this film, and it certainly payed off.
The Fantastic World of Juan Orol features some fairly melodramatic acting, which can seem overplayed at certain points in the film. At least one of the scenes that was probably intended to be a little tragic ended up being comically clichéd. Sosa was, of course, the star of the show and was fairly solid throughout. His on-screen aging is done incredibly well, a credit to both his skill as an actor and the film’s make-up department.
The film screening was thrown into a bit of chaos thanks to the English subtitles, which were sporadic at best. There were numerous lines in which subtitles didn’t appear at all, making it hard for non-Spanish speakers to follow the plot and impossible to understand dialogue. This did, however, have the unintended side effect of being pretty fun, as the audience battled to figure out whether the repeated phrase ‘What ass!’ is actually a catchphrase of Orol’s or a hilarious misspelling.
The Fantastic World of Juan Orol is a funny, elegant and clever film that pays tribute to a forgotten legend. It is a film that reminds of just how wide the world of cinema is, and one that will certainly make you laugh, even if it’s just because of the translation.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Rating out of 10: 6
The Hola Mexico Film Festival runs 29 November to 8 December 2013 exclusively at the Mercury Cinema.