The Palm Beach International Film Festival presented in this year’s lineup films that stood out for their diversity and willingness to explore subject matter that would be unthinkable in “mainstream” cinema. One such example of this is Flow, a film directed by David Martinez, who displayed the characteristic audacity to defy conventions, seen before in Spanish filmmakers of renown talent for storytelling, such as Carlos Saura and Luis Bunuel.
“Flow”. Photo by permission from David Martinez.
Described as “a film of inner action”, Flow certainly displays its share of similarities to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu”s Birdman. Walter Mann, a rising theater actor struggling with the blurred lines between fantasy and reality, takes center stage in the play that is his own life in this polymorphic Spanish film, which begins with an actor on stage speaking to what seems a non existent audience, but we get the feeling that perhaps it is a clever trick played by a shadow-filled auditorium. As the film unfolds, it begins to display bits and pieces of Walter’s reality, which is composed of a fractured relationship with his daughter, with whom he can only communicate through a series of drunken improv skits until he passes out on the floor, oblivious to anything except his own disappointments. His dialogue with his wife, which is solely carried out over the phone in a long-distance call, is charged with an amalgam of hate, sadness, and exhaustion, evidencing a non-existent marriage that is on the verge of total annihilation.
On location with Flow. Courtesy: David Martinez
As Walter rehearses for his new play, he imagines himself at times as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, presenting quite convincingly as Marlon Brando would, his views on men and their grand ability to betray and destroy. Walter doesn’t have to wait long for his Corleonesque theories to manifest themselves in the form of his estranged brother, who after the death of his father, convinces the unsuspecting Walter to give up half of a cash inheritance in exchange for his brother’s share of the company bequeathed to both of them by their father. Walter disinterested in the whole affair, halfheartedly agrees only to find out a few weeks later that the company is involved in a money-laundering opprobrium which swiftly puts him in prison for a year, his reputation, artistic career and what is left of his family utterly destroyed.
As Walter sits in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he fully grasps how easy life can change for an individual who thinks he has nothing left to lose. As he is released a year later, he takes to the streets and becomes a vagrant, willingly putting himself out of touch with family and friends. Walter begins to realize the true meaning of being an artist and of being human as he travels from one lonely location to the next, always in the outskirts of cities and towns, his only company a packet of letters that he never read in prison, including one from his father written when Walter was young in which he states his disappointment in his son, his stern voice carrying reproach from beyond the grave. At this moment, Walter’s reality is interwoven with different Dramatis Personae, his life becoming the proverbial stage in which he is acting his personal utmost tragedy. The journey ceases to be physical and comes to be spiritual, a ritual to mend a broken soul by putting piece by piece back together again in an agonizing “Castaway” revival, but undoubtedly more heartfelt and wrenching.
An astounding transformation is taking over Walter, and it drags us as witnesses in the form of a soliloquy, a formidable actor in a dressing room, who has at last found inner tranquility. The last piece is finally in place when he pulls out one last unread letter, a last testament from his father in which he reveals that for his son he has felt all along a restless sensation of envy towards Walter’s adventurous spirit and an unspoken admiration towards the son who always felt as a pariah in the eyes of his father. A key slips out of the envelope, accompanied by a map which leads to a hidden cabin in the woods bathed by a blinding ethereal light. A changed man, Walter has finally found his way back home and unwillingly, has also played a major part in his father’s long overdue redemption.
Flow was part of the showcase of feature films selected to screen as part of the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Juan Del Santo, who gives an astounding and moving performance in his role as Walter Mann, is also the co-producer and co-writer of Flow.