TFF 2017 Review: Buster’s Mal Heart

If there has been a film that everyone at TFF has rave about, this is Buster’s Mal Heart. This big and bold thriller escapes from the clichés of hollywoodesque action movies, to explore bigger and denser layers of surrealism, mockery and metaphysical inquiry. Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, Busters Mal Heart explores the socio-economic implications of being trapped by the constrains of modern capitalism as well as the dangers of being suffocated by libertarian dreams of self-sufficiency.

Buster’s Mal Heart is the story of a young man, Jonah, a hard-working concierge at a tourist resort who struggles to make both ends meet and whose dream of raising a happy family comes to an end out of the blue, once he encounters a conspiracy-obsessed drifter who persuaded him to convert to the apocalyptic message of the second inversion. Alongside this main story, there are two other linked in which Jonah is supposed to become Buster, an eccentric and paranoid man on the run by the local authorities, who survives by breaking into properties. Regularly he gets on your soapbox regarding the imminence of the “apocalypse” through a radio station. Finally, there’s a lonely man sitting on an empty boat who cannot escape from his own fate and whose story seem to echo the eponymous central figure in the biblical, the book of Jonah. Likewise the fictional Buster/ Jonah cannot escape from his own “allegorical whale”, a biblical symbol of a vision and a dream. Both the biblical and the the figurative/narrative/fugitive Jonah share the same struggle to come to terms with his troubling dreams

This absorbing story of an alienated character (Jonah/Buster), who struggles to fulfill his dream to provide his family with the prospects of a better life, has its merits and shortcomings. On one hand, the film exhibits an avant-garde vision of time and memory, exploding the boundaries of conventional narrative to recreate a remarkable structure in which past, present and future are perceived upon the same spatial and temporal plane, in which objectivity and subjectivity are never clearly distinguishable. Sarah Adina draws on what the French filmmaker Alain Resnais was doing in the 60’s with films like Last Year at Marienbad (1961) or Muriel (1963).

This approach towards film narrative can be a little daunting and confusing for the average spectator to follow the plot though. Visually the film is also remarkable and the cinematographer does a fabulous job with shades of The Shinning (1980) by Kubrick in some of the shots that take place at the hotel where Jonah/Buster is working and that resemble a lot to the claustrophobic atmosphere in Kubrick’s notorious movie. There’s also a parodied religious tone in the portray of Buster’s ambition to be the prophet of the next-to-come “third awakening” of the American society that draws on the films that Luis Buñuel made in Mexico in the late 50’s and early 60’s. There’s a certain resemblance of the fictional Buster, wearing a Jesus type beard and scraggly hair, to the character of Nazarin in Buñuel’s movie of the same title. In both films there seems to be a satirical depiction of a spiritual pilgrimage of two saintlike characters who make the same mistake of taking a doctrine too seriously (Christianity and libertarianism). Buster’s Mal Heart owe a lot to Nolan’s masterpiece thriller Memento. Both are psychological thrillers in which a main character struggles to make sense of his former past through scattered memories of a dramatic past. There’s also a sense of black-humor that pervades many scenes of the film that resemble a lot of to the Coen brothers’ films

All of these influences clearly confirm that Sarah Adina has a very solid background in film history and knows how to find a balance between homage and plagiarism while being innovative and provocative at the same time. On the other hand there are certain shortcomings in her second length feature that prevents Buster’s Male heart from being a true masterpiece. At first when you see the movie, you can’t stand having a certain feeling of it being loosely constructed. It seems as if the film is built upon certain general ideas that initially have little in common. On the other hand, while this loosely coupled approach can contribute to convey the idea that the film is multi-layered, dense and profound, it can render the opposite; of three different shorts rushed out to come up with a single length feature film. In addition to that, the editing has contributed to emphasize too much the form over the content, giving the film a provocative and mind-bending tone that gives a false glimpse of greatness to the film that doesn’t correspond necessarily to the depth of the narrative.

In a nutshell , Buster’s Mal Heart is a good movie, but not solid enough to be labeled as a great film, and anticipates that the best by the filmmaker, Sarah Adina, is yet to come.

Color / 2.40:1 / 2k • Dolby Digital 5.1 • 96 min • Not Rated


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