Year Released: 2023
Runtime: 1h 21m
Director(s): Natalia Almada
Where To Watch: opens in NYC with BAM Film on June 9 and in Los Angeles with the Laemmle Glendale on June 16, 2023
RAVING REVIEW: Alright, let's dive into the techno-reality of USERS, where director Natalia Almada touches us down into uncharted territory. It's like stepping into a world full of intriguing puzzles, layer after layer of intrigue, as Almada peels back the layers to reveal the complexities of modern living.
The film introduces us to a bustling Mexican city serving as the crux of the country's oil extraction industry. The focus goes beyond the black gold, focusing on the lives of unpaid naval workers, local fish farmers, and ordinary folks who are merely trying to make ends meet. It’s a compelling juxtaposition of industrial might and human frailty.
Almada's USERS is like a cinematic puzzle, stitching together captivating interviews with individuals battling injustice. This approach keeps your eyes glued to the screen, but sometimes you might feel like the puzzle pieces don’t always fit together. The focus switches between different characters and narratives, creating a patchwork quilt that ultimately supports the documentary's narrative.
The cinematography is like the film's visual superglue, holding together the narrative through stunning imagery. The score, beautifully performed by the Kronos Quartet, stirs your emotions, carrying you through anxiety and apprehension, ultimately delivering you back to the cradle of nature. This wasn’t my observation, but it was too perfect not to include; this felt like the spiritual successor to KOYAANISQATSI, a 1982 experimental non-narrative film.
Almada throws you a curveball when you think you have USERS figured out. The film starts to play a visual ping-pong game, highlighting the stark contrast between nature's tranquillity and industrial hustle. The Mexican city morphs into a symbol of industrial capitalism and neo-colonialism. But Almada doesn't just stop at the conflict between man and machine. The film ventures into an introspective exploration of motherhood in the digital age. What happens when devices become more than just devices? Can they replace humans, becoming the new norm for motherhood? These are the million-dollar questions Almada presents to her kids, representing the wide-eyed wonder of individuals trying to understand the world.
Despite its narrative hurdles, USERS manages to captivate with a unique blend of art and inquiry, a visual feast served on the platter of familiar, natural, and industrial elements. I saw a lot of criticism pointing to the likes of Terrence Malick; I find his films insufferably dull. This had substance and, even with its stumbles, remained more on point than any of his “art” films.
In a world where artificial intelligence is becoming the norm, USERS is a call urging us to revisit our place in this digital ecosystem. It reminds us of the potential effects of becoming overly reliant on technology, echoing some of the dystopian realities of classic sci-fi flicks.
To wrap things up, USERS offers a gripping, albeit sometimes messy, portrayal of our ever-growing relationship with technology. This visually arresting narrative is a must-see for anyone looking to understand our brave new digital world. I wish the narrative had a deeper dive or meaning, but that doesn’t take away from the experience. Technology is something we must all explore and grow with on our own.
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[photo courtesy of ICARUS FILMS]