Is there a regular pattern in the careers of post-Almodóvarian Spanish directors? It would seem that those who get famous enough to awaken interest in pan-European or Hollywood studios lose something when they open up their horizons to the English-speaking world. Alejandro Amenábar’s Agora is stripped of what made the strength of his Spanish films. Alex de la Iglesia’s Crimes in Oxford is his least eccentric and imaginative film. So has Nacho Vigalondo joined the club with Open Windows?
Looking at the plot you might well be tempted to answer that he has. Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), a fan of the successful actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), running a website devoted to her career, wins an invitation to spend an evening with her. But while he is awaiting the big event in his hotel room he is contacted on his computer and told that his rendezvous is cancelled. As compensation, the man on the phone offers him access to Goddard’s cell phone and much more of her privacy. By the time Nick realises that he is being manipulated by a dangerous psychopath into kidnapping the helpless star, it is too late. From there on Nick – and the viewer – are rushed through a ‘Russian dolls’ scenario, which, like the many computer windows that pop up on the screen, constantly reveals yet another ‘hidden’ reality behind appearances. This eventually becomes so unrealistic and unlikely that, unless you are gifted with a preternatural capacity for suspending your disbelief, you cannot help but lose interest in what is actually happening.
This high-concept film is a 2.0 version of the ‘found footage’ genre, where computer screens replace CCTV or amateur cameras. And Vigalondo sure knows how to exploit the genre’s constraints with creative efficiency, displaying impressive accuracy in directing hours and hours of footage that are then edited to be shown simultaneously on screen. The rhythm never slows down and his inventiveness in providing us with the unexpected is impressive and hardly troubled by realism. Witness, for instance, the spherical cameras in a bag which, assembled into a remote network, recreate the inside of the car boot where Goddard is locked. Yet, as many critics have already complained, in contrast to Vigalondo’s Timecrimes (2007) and Extraterrestre (2011), the constraints of the initial concept of Open Windows have failed to produce a masterpiece. The implausible plot, with a villain whose evil motivations one could not care less about, and the consensual and conventional criticism of the celebrity culture and the dubious role of information technology, leaves us under the impression that there is nothing new here. The easiest conclusion would be that Hollywood got the better (or in this case the worse) of Vigalondo, and we might even be tempted to blame it on Elijah Wood, since he also starred in Alex de la Iglesia’s flop Crimes in Oxford. Coincidence?
Yet there might be more to Open Windows than it may initially seem. If we trust Vigalondo with the talent he displayed previously, then the implausibility of the film’s twists and turns may be a signal rather than a flaw, as in Extraterrestre, where the alien plot was only a way of highlighting the characters’ self-fashioning. What if the director were planting false clues, offering a double discourse that would suit both Hollywood and his acute sense of humour? Open Windows is all about subversion – of identity, of reality, of information… Might not the spectator’s frustration be part of the subversion as well? Isn’t it quite subversive to cast an ex-porn star, to give Nick all the freedom to make her satisfy his wildest fantasies, and then leave the spectator with only one quick glance at her breast? And can it really be coincidental that the heroine’s name is Jill Goddard? J.L. Godard did you say? The Godard, who subversively sings the end of cinema every now and then? Might this be why the film makes us put up with a crew of silly French-speaking hackers (who are not even really French)? If we watch the film not as an umpteenth criticism of the media’s rape of privacy but as a spirited reflection on what cinema actually is, then the far-fetched plot can be seen as a statement about the pleasures of cinema with its problematic relation to reality. In that perspective, Open Windows may be seen as reconnecting with the old genre of tragicomedy where order is eventually restored thanks to a deus ex machina device. So there may still be hope for Nacho Vigalondo after all.
Watch the trailer: