Well, Carlos Vermut is certainly someone I’ll now be watching out for. Magical Girl is a trip. That’s in every good sense of the word. Definitely indebted to Buñuel, maybe most particularly to Belle de Jour, this tripartite film is cleverly structured, darkly funny (if you like your humor pitch, pitch black), and enticingly ambiguous. If modern Spanish cinema is internationally synonymous with Almodóvar, perhaps Vermut will change things.
Vermut’s film is made up of a lot of really clean, static frames. They’re often wide and symmetrical:
I think the real achievement here is in the mood. I thought a lot of Kaurismäki while watching Magical Girl. There’s something slow and deadpan. While in the Finnish films that adds up to something pretty funny, in this Spanish one it all adds up to something both off-kilter-humorous, and quite disturbing.
Vermut uses an overlapping structure, and that’s fun, but it’s the enigma of who Damián (José Sacristán) is, what his past with Bárbara (Bárbara Lennie, who is amazing in this film) is, and how all of this will come around to confront Luis (Luis Bermejo). So, in short, much of this is about the withholding of information, or the tease of it (i.e. the prologue between a younger Bárbara and Damián.
The film gets close to off the rails when it hews too close to Buñuel. That is, when Bárbara passes through a forbidden door, with the promise of some sexual violence (for money) happening on the other side. This shot is beautiful-
-but it’s her encounters with the wheelchair-bound proprietor of said door-
-that just feels really 90s-cheesy and cliche.
Otherwise, Magical Girl casts some spells. The frames are so rich and confident that they don’t often feel as static as they are. A scene where Bárbara laughs uncontrollably at a horrible thought is shot so eerily. Her back towards us for most of the time, all we can see are her shaking shoulders, until she turns and says something unthinkable: