Phantasmagoria is the projection on smoke, the pre-cinematic origins of moving photography in an almost 3-dimensionality. Thus, we have Lisandro Alonso’s Fantasma, which is none of those things—simply a reveal of the machinations of them. Single characters traipse around a cinema and rarely come into contact or acknowledge each other—when these things happen, the conversation is quite brief. The action is very far away from fantasy and sticks to a dragging and literalist realism, and the characters are mostly waiting for something—or somebody—to happen. Within the frame are a few slight tricks: doors moving in the background, pornographic imagery never shown in close-up, a fluid and delicate camera, regarding selves in mirrors. Two of the actors are from previous Alonso films and return in similar format. Everything is held hesitantly between audience expectation and acknowledgement of the metacinematic devices.
Then it gets into the movie itself, or the movie within the movie, which is much less interesting. At least before the show starts and the characters are abroad, there’s a certain open-endedness to what they’re doing whereas their focus on the movie itself centers the attention, unfortunately, too closely to director Alonso himself. Before the movie starts and the characters watch it, there is expectation contrasted by things “calling”—an elevator, an Internet connection, a couple of phones, a landscape, a skeezy look into a woman’s apartment—all of these things invitations and distractions away from the core of the building that provoke an invitation to some other plot or narrative to unfold, but then Alonso just looks back at his own previous work and redefines it. This is fine if you’ve SEEN his previous work. If not, then this movie does not stand so easily alone.
Thus, unfortunately, despite the skillful blocking and constant resetting of characters in the first half of the movie, the entire movie itself half requires previous knowledge of the director’s own work, which, come on, is a tad annoying to those not previously introduced. Luckily for Alonso, I’m a habitual follower-up who will pretty much track down his previous work on principle. However, other people looking for an introduction to his work WILL want to look sooner in his career and build a relationship before reappropriating it for the purposes of a later self-centered movie.