Raindance film review: Alice in Marialand Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 12:07
Director: Jesús Magaña Vázquez
Cast: Bárbara Mori, Stephanie Sigman, Claudio Lafarga

"Where am I?" asks Alice, as she enters Marialand. It's not the last time we hear that question. Jesús Magaña Vázquez's drama comes up with a grounded interpretation of the familiar fairy tale - but one that still carries all of its surreal confusion.

Marialand, we swiftly discover, is the vacuum in the life of Tonatiuh in the wake of his former partner, Maria. A writer who hasn't written anything successful, he was in thrall to the seductive, wild model - something that left their relationship doomed to crash and burn. Vázquez presents flashbacks to their time together with the finality of monochrome, cutting between the faded memories and the vibrant present, where Alice and Tonatiuh collide.

What follows is a dizzying study of the confusion that surrounded moving between relationships, as Tonatiuh falls head over heels without standing up from the last time it happened. Alice, meanwhile, is just as dazed, finding herself surrounded by remnants of feelings and projected ideals.

It's a fantastic set-up, which Vazquez presents with fantastical flourishes: an opening sequence, which interprets Maria and Tonatiuh as a lavish Hollywood sci-fi is stunning, while a dance sequence halfway through shimmies between greyscale and gorgeous oranges and blues with sass. The cast are more than up to navigating the maze, from Lafargo's deceptively controlled presence to Barbara Mori's fiery recklessness. Stephanie Sigman, though, is the one who steals the show: ahead of her turn in Spectre, and following her performance in Miss Bala, she reminds us just how captivating and sympathetic she is on camera, coyly smiling at her guide through the warped universe.

The script, though, never quite allows this world to convince: on-the-nose dialogue (one doctor in a hospital is even called "Dr. Robbit") and a wayward structure distract you from the disorienting effect of the premise. A scene involving Alice's mother, meanwhile, only hints at another angle on the same subject that could have proven more powerful - a revelation in the final act has all the chilling impact of Hitchcock's Vertigo, but is swiftly brushed aside. There are interesting questions here about resolutions and conclusions: how can one move on from the past, if one is haunted by it? And how can one create a new life, if they cannot remember it? But you can't shake the feeling that the film ends up as lost as its titular heroine.