Omar A. Rodriguez Lopez is gonna need a bigger hat rack.
The prolific solo artist and fearless leader of Latin progsters, The
Mars Volta, is now a bona fide filmmaker. Not just a film director,
mind you, a film maker
. Not since the heyday of Vincent Gallo
have I seen one man take so many credits in a feature film. Producer,
writer, director, actor, composer, craft service- all control R belong
to Omar, in this his directorial "debut." I put debut in quotes because
according to him he has made 3 films prior and at least one since, this
is just the first to see the light of festival day.
So who or what is The Sentimental Engine Slayer
? Other than
sounding like the title of a Mars Volta b-side, my money is on Barlam.
Played by Lopez, he is a sensitive young lad who likes to build model
cars, and may or may not be the perpetrator of one or more sexually
motivated homicides. He lives in a squalid house with a pack of dogs,
his drug addicted sister, and her lazy white boyfriend. Barlam is
insecure, an easy target for bullies, and probably a virgin. There is no
linear plot to speak of.
That is all well and good, you say, but what is it about? To be
honest, I wasn't quite sure until the director himself took the stage
for a post screening Q&A. Despite rumors of being a tyrant, Omar
came off as likable, well spoken, and unlike many directors,
surprisingly forthcoming about the meaning of his film. There were
technical difficulties resulting in what sounded like a Mars Volta vocal
effect, but I still managed to glean what the film was about- finding
OK, I can see that. The fragmented nature of the narrative
corroborates this. But that doesn't make the film any easier to digest.
Because while Barlam is trying to find himself on screen, Lopez is
trying to find himself as a filmmaker. There are a lot of interesting
ideas at play in Slayer
, but many of them are left undeveloped.
This amounts to a lot of missed opportunities, making for a frustrating
The performances aren't the strongest, either. Omar has moments of
quiet effectiveness, but the same can't be said for the other actors.
The film is cast with family and friends, none of which are
One of the places where the film does excel is the sound design.
That may come as no surprise to some of you- Omar is a Grammy winning
musician, after all- but I was worried the score would be jam packed
with his patented brand of Carl Brutananadilewski inspired "Widdly wah!
Widdly Widdly wah!" But Omar wisely eschews such wankery, opting for a
more subtle mix of ambiance and white noise that is only obtrusive when
As with his work in The Mars Volta, Omar is playing by his own
rules. You either dig what he is doing or you don't. He probably doesn't
care. For some, like the frizzy-haired college kids asking for
autographs after the film, the man can do no wrong. As a love/hate Mars
Volta fan, I have to pick and choose my moments. For me, The
Sentimental Engine Slayer
is not one of those moments. Its
disjointed mixture of The Last American Virgin
and Blue Velvet
just didn't do it for me. If I had to describe the film in one word, I
would have to go with "interesting," out of kindness. Still, it is
obvious Omar loves what he does, which gives me hope that one day he
produce a film I will be able to connect with.