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Review: Slamdance Jury Prize Winner “Rezeta” Provides a Showcase for Newcomer Fernando Frias

Review: Slamdance Jury Prize Winner “Rezeta" Provides a Showcase for Newcomer Fernando Frias

“How many guys have you been with?” Alex (Roger Mendoza) hesitantly asks his new girlfriend, Rezeta (Rezeta Veliu). It’s a question the attractive Albanian model freshly arrived in Mexico City undoubtedly gets a lot. And indeed, over the course of writer-director Fernando Frias’ debut feature (named for the pretty face at its center), we’ve already seen her in bed with three different men. Taking home the Jury Award for Narrative Feature at Slamdance, “Rezeta” at times may seem as desultory as its titular character, but it steadily proves itself to be a deft and droll observation on the fleeting nature of relationships.

Arriving in the big city with few connections and virtually no knowledge of the Spanish language, Rezeta’s good looks are her bread and butter and she manages to get steady work with relative ease. As she attends casting calls and books photo shoots, Frias humorously highlights the exploitative nature of the modeling industry even as he glosses its dark side. In one particularly amusing scene, “Booty Bass’s “Shake That Ass Bitch” blasts as four leggy femmes are made to dance to a casting director’s cues: “Sad! Angry! Sexy! Slutty!” he yells mechanically from off camera.

The first real connection Rezeta makes is through a serendipitous encounter with Alex, a punk-musician who does maintenance work for extra cash. Although there is clearly a flirtatious charge in the air as the two compare notes on tattoos, their relationship remains on the platonic backburner while Rezeta takes up with a series of gentleman callers—first a mustached photographer (Sebastian Cordova) closely followed by a fetching writer (Emiliano Becerríl).

Neither of these dalliances seem particularly deep—the first exists exclusively in the feverish realm of pleasure, while the second is plagued by its absence—and as one relationship bleeds into the next, we find we know as little about Rezeta as we did when the film began. “She doesn’t share her past with me. I think she knows nothing,” her second boyfriend complains to a friend one day, and the only consolation he’s able to offer is: “Man, she’s a model, what do you expect?” It’s a stereotype the film both relies on and challenges as the question of whether or not there is more to the eponymous character than meets the eye is posed in various ways but never really answered.

Moving forward with elliptical stealth, time is demarcated only by Rezeta’s improvement in Spanish—a process greatly expedited by the old school label-maker Alex buys her to help increase her vocabulary— and it’s her friendship-cum-romance with the punk-rocker that is given the most weight in the film. Whether they’re languorously biking around Mexico City or conversing while getting tattooed, the progression of their relationship is narrated as much through the visuals as it is through the naturalistic script, and the director’s freewheeling aesthetic does justice both to his characters and to the environment they inhabit. Relying on non-professional actors—Veliu is in reality an Albanian refugee turned model and Mendoza a musician—Frias has harnessed the real-life personas of his players to great avail, leaving room for improvisation along the way.

Populated by sketches rather than characters, the sparse nature of the script proves the key to its depth, as “Rezeta” seems more concerned with the nature of relationships in abstraction that it does with concrete plot details. Frank in its depiction of eroticism and emotion alike, Frias’ ability to articulate the ephemeral aspects of human connection elevates his film to something greater than the sum of its itinerant parts, establishing him as a talent to watch.

Criticwire Grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? With the clout of Slamdance’s top prize, “Rezeta” is likely to gain traction on the festival circuit and has the potential to land a small distribution deal that will hopefully extend beyond VOD, though it will find most of its viewers there.

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