Problemista Has Odd People and a Scifi Rim Meet

Problemista still of Alejandro (Julio Torres) and Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) staring.

Problemista is a decent picture, haphazardly stitched together with a charm all its own, even if that charm’s memory may fade. 

Problemista is a comedic film helmed by two oddball characters who come together. Both have something the other wants. It centers around Alejandro (Julio Torres), an immigrant from El Salvador. He struggles to find a new job to avoid deportation. At his former job, he meets the loud, entitled ‘Karen’ in the form of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). He gets an opportunity to work for her as a freelancer. He sticks with it for the potential that she will sponsor. That way, he can remain in the United States. Problemista is heavy on the weird, focusing on artistic imagery, some beautiful and some exaggerated and pointless, but as feature debuts go, it’s a promising beginning. 

Written, directed, and starring Julio Torres, the movie begins with narration (Isabella Rossellini), which sprinkles throughout. Sometimes, it feels out of place, even unnecessary. But the opening highlights Dolores’ (Catalina Saavedra) affection for her son Alejandro. It also shows where he gets his dreams of toy design from. But her nightmare that he will wind up in a horrible place pans out. After all, New York City is no cakewalk for poor non-white immigrants. There’s opportunity but also ample chances for exploitation and abuse. As is Alejandro’s Hasbro experience.

Problemista Has Sci-fi Fringe Humor

Problemista image of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) and Alejandro (Julio Torres) facing each other.
Problemista image of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) and Alejandro (Julio Torres). Courtesy of A24.

At the start, their relationship comes after Julio’s loses job safeguarding Elizabeth’s partner, Bobby’s (Rza) cryogenically frozen body. Additionally, the comical bout regarding the power cord keeping Bobby alive-ish shows two things. Besides setting the comedic tone, it highlights a hands-on science fiction element. Moreover, it demonstrates Alejandro’s reaction to conflict. Like Vanilla Sky, Bobby chooses to freeze to await a cure for his illness. It’s up to Elizabeth to ensure he receives the care he needs.

However, to do that requires money. So Elizabeth decides to team up with Julio to give Bobby his dream: an art exhibition of his egg paintings. It sets the stage for lots of work. Meanwhile it paves the way for brief entries of different characters. Plus, there’s subterfuge to retrieve some of the missing paintings. Because, for Elizabeth, all thirteen paintings must be at the exhibition. 

Characters in Problemista Have Peculiar Traits

Problemista image of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) standing beside Bobby (Rza).
Problemista still of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) and Bobby (Rza). Courtesy of A24.

One of the memorable aspects of Problemista is how the characters move. Alejandro and Elizabeth move in distinct and peculiar ways. It builds an easily identifiable relationship between the viewer and the character. Simultaneously, it highlights their differing personalities. Elizabeth slinks. Her movements are that of a villain. Alternatively, Alejandro moves with a baby step uncertainty. However, although the characters present their mannerism as memorable, the plot in Problemista does not stand out.

A Q&A with the two stars showed there is a disconnect that makes Tilda Swinton right for the role. She does not believe her character is a ‘Karen.’ Karens are entitled, often loud one moment and playing victim the next. They do whatever it takes to get their way. Expectedly, Karens don’t believe they are Karens. So, by that right, Tilda’s response cements her as right for the character. 

Julio Torres is the hilarious, awkward character trying to survive. The story uses artistic visuals to capture the catch-22 nature of immigration in the United States. For many the pitfalls are too vast and the exploitation too grim. Elizabeth and Julio are oddly a great pair because she helps to pull him out with her loud, brash, behavior. He sees the softness and passion she has for her love. Where Problemista falls short is depicting her as a monster. She’s not a monster. An entitled jerk, definitely. Misusing words diminishes their value. ‘Monster’ is for horrific people or vampires and various fictional creatures. Not entitled white women.  

Funny Moments in a Jumbled Story

Problemista still of Dolores (Catalina Saavedra) wheeling a young Alejandro (Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel) around in a wagon.
Problemista still of Dolores (Catalina Saavedra) and young Alejandro (Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel). Courtesy of A24.

At times, Problemista takes on too much. There are Elizabeth’s demands, Julio’s Hasbro drama, a mistress, a rival, and immigration. To top it off, it transitions to a hero’s style trek as Elizabeth faces her opponents in a cave. There’s even a brief moment of sex work that is pointless to the plot. Julio Torres needs to focus his lens for future film plots. Problemista is a decent picture, haphazardly stitched together with a charm all its own. Even if that charm’s memory may fade. 

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