Opus Zero: Review

Opus Zero

Opus Zero: Review.

Discussing the worlds big questions of life and death in film is no easy feat. It is so easy to ramble your answers into an echo chamber, only to realise you didn’t have anything to say. Daniel Graham’s “Opus Zero” falls victim to this, yet it remains an undeniably beautiful film. What little story there is revolves around Paul (Willem Defoe), a composer seemingly looking for a meaning in life that is impossible to find.

He arrives at a remote Mexican village after his father’s death but has missed the funeral and does not seem too focused on grieving. Instead, he searches for a girl in a photo his father gave him for reasons not known to him. Paul refuses to accept that anyone can completely disappear from history, so he feels he has to find this girl. However, when all proves fruitless, he is simply a lost soul in the streets of a Mexican town.

Paul is a frustrating protagonist; his methods of self-expression, particularly his speech, are almost entirely archaic. He is not the only character guilty of this. Most of the cast like to speak in a sort of free verse poetry, but they very rarely have anything profound to say. The film masquerades as philosophy and only manages to come across as strange. There are one or two moments where Defoe manages to pull it off, and a vibrant mystique fills the screen begging for any line to be brave enough to delve into it further and yet nothing comes of it.

Following the narrative is a struggle, it is hard to tell what the message is, and considering all Opus Zero has to offer is insight, this is a destructive issue. Saying that this movie is inaccessible to most audiences would be an understatement, and I’m not saying every film needs to pander to the masses, but when making a film, a potential audience should be in mind and in this case it appears that didn’t happen. 

Opus Zero (Trailer) from Matías Penachino on Vimeo.

Utilising cinematography to isolate your characters in their own worlds is always enjoyable to watch when done well. This is what Opus Zero does spectacularly well. Every slightly hammed-up philosophy lesson has a wondrous view to go along with it. Cinematographer Matias Penachino has managed to capture a real sense of beauty in the bleak environments around this Mexican town. There are plenty of shots that linger for far too long, but it is hard to be too upset when what they show us is so unflinchingly stunning. It’s a shame that the script couldn’t back up the work done here, had it done the message could have transcended boundaries, which is what I think Graham was going for, but the film never manages to achieve this. 

Opus Zero’s major downfall is its lack of any discernible story. It is a husk of a film, with a beautiful and robust foundation that is entirely void of anything else. The concept wasn’t the issue, it has been pulled off many times before, but each of those times there has been a clear narrative path to follow. Take Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” for instance, the entire narration of that film is actual philosophical poetry, but it is used to flow the story along and to emphasise a clear yet conceptually significant message.

Opus Zero’s dialogue opts not to have a story and fails to make clear what it is trying to say. I think for his debut feature Graham has aimed too high and fell flat, regardless the talent is still clearly there; the issue is in the expression not the thinking behind it. 

Willem Defoe is making a habit of popping up where no one expects him, and it is excellent for the film industry that he is. He has buoyed the low budget films he’s been appearing in to no end, and this one is no exception. Opus Zero is far from his best work in recent times, but it is still a strong outing for the veteran actor. The script often proves too much for him to overcome, but the effort is still clear to see.

Defoe tries just as hard as every other aspect of this film to say something worth saying, and that is admirable. There is an interview scene in the second half of the film, and I think it is the best scene in the entire film. Here Defoe encompassed Paul perfectly and had the rest of the film dug so deeply as this scene does, I think it would have been a far more enjoyable experience. 

Opus Zero doesn’t lack beauty, but its absence of a story is unforgivable. There is little to be gained by its constant philosophical teachings despite the apparent effort to speak to whoever sees it. All the right elements are there to suggest that Daniel Graham is a more than capable filmmaker who could very well make a movie that achieves transcendence, but this one isn’t it.

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Mark is an Australian who likes movies, a lot. Now he studies and writes about them. Will watch anything Scorsese has ever touched.


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