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October 11, 2016
Review: Everything Else
elseFlor (Adriana Barraza) spends her days considering, and often declining, welfare applications in a bland government office, and her nights watching TV with her cat. She seems to both take great pride in her job, and some pleasure in finding arbitrary reasons to turn down applications - blue instead of black ink on the last page, one line on a signature not matching another. Whether she is just a government drone meticulously carrying out pointless instructions, or a lonely woman exercising the only control she has over an isolating and chaotic world, we don't quite know. When one applicant asks to speak to her supervisor, there is none. This is government bureaucracy so efficient and pervasive it no longer even needs an enforcer.

Flor seems to take these interactions very much to heart - each night, she carefully records each name in a log book, with red dots accompanying each rejection - but struggles to engage with the real world around her. On crowded subways, on empty nighttime streets, in her impersonal office, and at the public pool where she never gets in the water, seemingly frozen by a past trauma, she is all but invisible. All she has to offer - and all she receives - are polite greetings when coming and going.

Director Natalia Almada, making her feature length debut after working on documentaries, claims the film is inspired by Hannah Arendt's idea that bureaucratic dehumanization is the worst form of violence. Her slow, quiet film certainly makes a strong case for it. The twin powers of Barraza's subtle, near-wordless performance and Almada's incredibly restrained filmmaking make for a mesmerizing cinematic poem that will haunt and echo long after its beautiful last shot.

Almada directs with the confidence of a master, with long takes steeped in quiet atmosphere, games of light, careful details and the gentle, keenly observed rhythms of real life. For a filmmaker better known for her documentary work, Almada has a fine hand with rich poetic minimalism. Her film boasts no score and not a single camera move (unless you count a static shot from inside a moving car). All the focus is on Adriana Barraza and the result is hypnotic.

For her part, Barraza proves more than worthy of all the attention. Her endlessly nuanced performance never wavers and never gives up all its secrets. She brings effortless dimension and complexity to a completely unremarkable, but deeply human woman. Her every movement is etched with the deep loneliness, but also resilience, of a bureaucratically empty life. As Flor stumbles towards opening up, the pain of reaching out beyond pain and isolation into a world that could just as easily carry on without you becomes quietly palpable.
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Written by: Friedl Kreuser
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