What is the mark of an impactful and connecting film? Is it the situation that you can see yourself in? Is it the actions and results that you go through with the characters? Is it the characters that you see yourself in? Perhaps it is simply the score and soundtrack that remind you of a point in your life. For writer and director Adrian Garcia Bogliano (HERE COMES THE DEVIL, LATE PHASES), it is all of the above with his latest film SCHERZO DIABOLICO.
Many film reviewers never really discuss how a film personally affects them. For me, a lot of the time it helps me to decide whether or not I want to talk or review the project. For the film artist that Bogliano is, several of his films have connected with me for a number of reasons over the years. His film, HERE COMES THE DEVIL, addresses neglect in really devilish ways and his werewolf tale LATE PHASES shows the struggle of a retired service man and the battles both inside and out for him. These two films have connecting points in different parts of my life. His newest film SCHERZO DIABOLICO connects with me and takes me back to a period in my life when I could not win for anything. I questioned “why do the right thing and play by the rules instead of just doing what the many do and take advantage no matter what?”. Thankfully I did not follow the footsteps of the film’s lead character Aram, with said footsteps leading to a potentially fatal end. This is the mastery, talent and power Bogliano has with me.
SCHERZO DIABOLICO tells the story of Aram (Francisco Barreiro), a man whose life is anything but what he has thought it should be. Unsuccessful in his marriage, career, as a father and more, we assume that it his life has been deteriorating long before the opening of the film. Aram decides that if the rules of the game will not work with him, he will create rules and change the game like many do. Never fully giving you the origins of Aram’s different personas or pertaining to any of the other characters, you go through the first act of the narrative being a voyeur to Aram’s well calculated plan and putting the pieces together of abduction and captivity. The plan is as simple as a Coen’s Brothers caper film with hints of Hitchcock. To the musical composition of “Scherzo Diabolico”, Aram kidnaps his boss’s teenage daughter Anie (Daniela Soto Vell), holds her in a vacant building far away, dehumanizing and abusing her until he has all that he wants and thinks he deserves, at th expense of pretty much everyone around him.
Planning precisely and meticulously, we see Aram time the plan down to the very second. He acquires the knowledge and resources to pull off the abduction and over the next six months (edited down to specific plot points but wished there had been more), we see Anie broken down by Aram but never sexually abused (similarity to MARTYRS, another film I loved). As Anie’s family struggles with the idea of thier daughter being kidnapped, we see Anie go through changes on several levels (emotionally, mentally and spiritually) that are illustrated through raw emotion, violence, symbolism and brilliant lighting.
Aram goes about his separate personas using the people around him and manipulating the situation to benefit him at work as he replaces his boss (also Anie’s father), has an affair with his assistant and gaining confidence from doing so, with a smug feeling regarding the plan going so smooth. At home, he shows his wife that she was wrong about him and all of his overtime has paid off. The brilliance of Aram, much like the rest of the leads in SCHERZO DIABOLICO, is that you know they are flawed and not really nice people at all but have depth and are still likable for different reasons. You can connect to them, want to be them or understand why they do what they do.
Once Aram has taken over as the boss in his firm, he releases Anie back to her family. However, Anie is a different person now, a stranger in the world before her waiting to be triggered by someone or something. Another intelligent aspect pertaining to the writing of SCHERZO DIABOLICO is the psychological layers pertaining to the transformation of Anie as well as the behavior of Aram being grounded in Ivan Pavlov’s “Theory of Classical Conditioning”, shock treatment and the manipulation of fear. Through this change, we see Anie’s family deal with the pain and results of their daughter’s shock and conditioning as well as frustration of not knowing anything more about her kidnapping. At this point, it is a perfect plan.
As Aram continues to enjoy the spoils of his plan and actions, things begin to spider web out of control as his wife, lover and Anie all begin to chip away at different points of his fragile foundation. Named for the very energetic and skilled classical piano composition “Scherzo Diabolico”, Aram has changed, through mental and physical torment, the once innocent girl in Anie, creating a powerful, smart and complex instrument of revenge which is triggered without notice (a powerful and frightening 3 minutes). With the motivation to know why, Anie goes on the hunt for understanding and revenge (in classic exploitation and Korean thriller style) with every person connected to Aram. Bogliano only ends up showing bits and pieces of the kills and results from them, leaving it to the viewer’s mind to fill in the blanks. The third act shifts greatly from a dark and sexually-driven dramatic story to a straight up unrelentingly brutal, vicious practical gore FX and exploitative horror film. Names like Asian filmmakers Chan wook-Park, Takashi Miike and Jee-woon Kim come to mind for their horror thriller film work that reflects and inspires SCHERZO DIABOLICO.
Strong and complex characters are one of Bogliano’s trademarks whether both writing and directing or just directing their performances. However, SCHERZO DIABOLICO is more than just a character study, Bogliano understands the aspect of conducting his film like a symphony. Each part having equal weight and balance. They flow together, are interwoven on both sides of the camera and invoke so much emotion and power that you can’t help but hold on tight because you will never feel at ease. Aspects such as the lighting, sound, score, framing, performance and more all have importance and all reflect each character. An example of this, is the use of a (Dario Argento colorized) red back pack that Anie wears to school before the kidnapping. Her character is a fantasy crafted by Bogliano but like any fantasy once you get past the surface and test it, it evolves into something else entirely. Actress Vell plays that temptress, red riding hood style character with the school girl out fit on and accepting Facebook friend requests from older men. This changes as she is broken down and dehumanized to the point of no return and no acceptance by anyone. This transformation focuses technically on her being cast in shadow, almost letting the dark consuming her. In fact, during her captivity there is a storm scene that symbolizes the change in her and what is coming as well as a captivating shot of the rain drops washing over her not only baptizing her new persona but creating the tears she refuses to cry.
This is very much a staple of Bogliano’s previous work with color, light and shadow with all the lead characters. It can provoke, invoke and shape the mood for the scene and characters and like his previous films, Bogliano is not afraid to utilize those aspects in the film. It is as subtle and defining as the costumes (or lack of) that are used in different stages of the film and its characters. Those elements compliment the score and sound design that alone, is probably the best combination of the year!
The ability to craft and scribe an entire film influenced by the difficult, powerful, obsessive and energetic “Scherzo Diabolico” is incredible. Listening to the mixes of sound laid over voices. Watching new meaning come when “Scherzo Diabolico” triggers new behaviors. The different genres of music performed and composed by “Sealtiel Alatriste” along with pieces by Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and musical styles like rock, techno style beats (think Sneaker Pimps) that elevate the elements of the scenes with violence, sex, emotion and tension. I have no doubt the post production perhaps was the most crucial stage of this film but also the most limiting as my one issue is how much backstory was not told no doubt through the film’s edits.
In the end, SCHERZO DIABOLICO is a true masterpiece and one of the best films this year to hit DVD and VOD. Bogliano is one of the most complete storytellers as his films never feel genre specific, showing respect to so many influences and capturing the essence of characters completely. With his films you walk a tightrope as he captivates you with canvas of detail and depth. Dark psychosis, vulnerability, sex, violence, gore, twisted humor, character depth and intelligence all complete the foundation of this enthralling thriller.
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