The Motive Moves in Mysterious Ways

Movies: TIFF17 Capsule Reviews

Javier Gutierrez stars as a notary struggling to write the great novel without success until he starts eavesdropping on his neighbours in Manuel Martin Cuenca’s darkly comic exploration of the writerly quest

By Katherine Monk

The writerly process is a running theme here at the Toronto International Film Festival. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Haifaa Al Mansour’s Mary Shellery may be the headliners, but hiding in the background is a little film called The Motive (El Autor), a Spanish film about a notary struggling to write the great novel.

A dark comedy that has an ability to offer a string of surprises out of left field, The Motive stars Javier Gutierrez as Alvaro, the number cruncher with great expectations. He lives in a beautiful flat in Seville with his wife (Maria Leon) — a sexy and successful writer in her own right.

Everyone loves her work, but Alvaro thinks she writes crowd-pleasing pap. He craves substance — writing with real purpose that can change the world, a true classic. His only hurdle is a lack of talent. He’s spent years taking night classes in creative writing, but eventually his teacher loses it, telling him there’s nothing authentic in his prose. It’s empty, insincere and flat.

He tells Alvaro to go out and observe, experience and listen to the world around him. Fate cooperates in her cruel way, landing Alvaro in a new apartment by himself. His new dwelling is as blank as the computer screen before him, but when he overhears his neighbours from the window in his bathroom, he’s inspired.

He writes down he conversations, imagines plots, and soon, Alvaro is spinning a complex web involving his neighbours as he slowly, manipulatively, insinuates himself into their lives.

Gutierrez plays it straight, but there’s inherent comedy in his body language, allowing director Manuel Martin Cuenca to play with viewer expectation, as well as the tone of Javier Cerca’s original novel.

At times, you think you know exactly how this movie will end as it flirts with cliche and obsesses over the work of Ernest Hemingway. Yet every time you think you’re one step ahead, Cuenca pushes his narrative cart off the cliff — making you laugh as his characters scream in free fall.

Filled with dark irony, yet steeped in a true sense of comic levity, The Motive is the Spanish version of Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry — substituting Seville’s Old World charms for New York’s New World neurosis.

The Motive screens at the Toronto International Film Festival Friday September 15 and opens in Europe this fall.

THE EX-PRESS, September 13, 2017


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