The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions (2004)
Writer and director: Carlos Atanes

review by Paul Higson

Before Star Wars, before the space opera overcame, there was an exciting and obscure strand of science fiction. Much of it rose out of Europe, particularly France, and stayed there, largely overlooked, surreal, pretentious or intelligent but distant, some if not all of the above. To France it is then for Spanish filmmaker Carlos Atanes, with his digital science fiction feature debut FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions, not only adopting the locations but also the language. The only spoken Spanish in the film comes from a single interloping character (Manuel Solas), from the 'Iberian department,' an appropriately macho resistance (if, oddly, a clown in his original profession) in a society dominated by women.

The Parisian population is subjected to a tannoy delivered doctrine of dehumanisation. "You do not need to trouble your thoughts/ Failure would be inevitable/ Avoid Physical Contact/ You do not need to remember the past/ Failure would be inevitable." This is nothing new. We have had envisioned before time and again controlling regimes in science fiction, many made the more chilling by their approximation to the possible. It has been some time since we had a future unreality that was this detailed in defiance of its budget. A fair comparison to Atanes' endeavour might be George Lucas' THX-1138. The structure of this neo-future is not complete, as a feature-length running time would never allow that, so the filmmaker must suggest it in a constantly fresh barrage given the time available. He exploits the minutes well. There is a rare intelligence here and everything has undergone careful consideration. There is no 'Hello' or 'Good day', the greeting, even among the ruling classes, is "A life of sacrifice!" Milk is the popular drink, a nod to eugenics, and long hair, girls, is fine, just heaven help you if you allow it free of a tying back.

It is a world ruined by attempts to make everything in life better. Mutation is on the increase. The fish are inedible, with some ichthyic denizen now sporting armour hard enough to sink a pleasure boat. Marine biologist Angeline W.S. (Anne-Celine Auche) has been chosen to surrender her womb to the Sisterhood of Mecacontrol. Her house pet is Nono (Xavier Tort), who does not speak and is fascinated by sound, the inadvertent curator of a museum of audio culture, he is addicted to the illegal transmissions on the Celestial Web. He is approached by members of The Cause, who support the simpleton's quest into the natural, his docile exploration into another existence outside this totalitarian reality. Angeline W.S. is uncomfortable with her fate and succumbing to the idea of a visit to the Northern Pyrenees Nature Reserve, the last plot of verdant paradise, they "unpack the cat" and go for green. She wishes she could draw the "forest deep into" her conscious so that she could "carry it always with" her.

Like many things, death is a mystery, and when the cat dies, Nono surprises her by constructing a cardboard coffin and conducting a burial. Anything else dying, be it animal or human, would be salvaged recycled. The stress gets the better of Angeline W.S. and she goes into a coma (induced by lentil poisoning, the lentil now an illegal pulse) at the car wheel. Useless Nono wanders the cracked desert floor and onto a film shoot, a production by The Cause. But as the director is trying to push the boundaries of a 'text scene' by trying to have his actress touch the male co-stars bum ("It's an invalid operation," she protests, "I'll shut down.") the helicopters of the Sisterhood are homing in on them and a perverse and sadistic fate awaits the men.

Captured they are each of the given the same ominous prisoner number 001, charged with the most stunningly mundane of crimes ("fits of nostalgia," for example... well, that's Dennis Norden fucked) and must pronounce their own sentence. If the specifications of their self-punishment are not cruel enough and don't end in death no later than a year from the date, then a punishment more appalling is served upon them. So bad can it be that a man might rue not having offered to pull his own fingernails out and rubbed pepper in his eyes.

With it looking particularly bad for Nono, he gets a reprieve as the leaders investigate is purported ability to see beyond... this notion that "reality is insufficient." Or is he just a silent and curious retard?

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions is brimming with thoughts and notions. Others might even compile an entire CV out of the contents of this film. Digitally shot by David Garcia and Albert Ramirez, it looks good, the interiors clean, the exteriors honest. A visit to the film's website (www.faqthemovie.com) may introduce some concern with lurid fantasy shots, the land of the erotic perfidy that is the Celestial Web, transmissions that Nono alone might be able to receive. The only major effects sequence is the destruction of that phallic pylon the Eiffel Tower, a 'castration' the women declare. The felling is quaint rather than impressive as a result of the budget being what it is. Humour sits on the film like a sick Siamese twin.

The acting is good, with some decent roles for the attractive young actresses. Miss Auche is a comfortable beauty tormented by a terrible inner conflict she might otherwise been unaware of were it not for her man pet. Marta Timon is the fabulously cold Metacontrol Inspector and Neus Bernaus is the sultry, seductive and two-faced advisor to ruler, Number Three (Anna Diogene). The men fare well too, Manuel Solas and Raul Mena superb as the leading insurgents, while Xavier Tort, trundles from one location to the next, the human mcguffin.

The soundtrack is a subtle investigation in light jazz and gongs and, ironically given the character and habits of Nono, it is composed by the male lead Xaviar Tort. Of the subtitles, they are superbly translated, seemingly in-house, as suggested by their only occasional odd behaviour, an insistence that the only quote (from Shakespeare) in the film by a character be identified in it's own ledge atop the screen, while another line of dialogue is given brackets. The new subtitling ledge may have been an afterthought, so obvious a quote, the writer's fear that the audience might assume his wonderful dialogue might now be his own so let us draw a clear line of distinction now.

A tale of the consistently unexpected, it is a pleasant surprise, but is ultimately too much, and goes a final illusion and confusing trick too far. Still, small disappointments aside, everyone should see this film. Witness the birth of a future name in the cinema of the unusual.
FAQ

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Send it
W.H. Smith

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2005 Pigasus Press