It is hard to know exactly what to make of Country of Hotels as it comes across as a film which isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Not necessarily a bad thing, as many films do manage to sit successfully in the wings of recognised form and genre. This, however, is not one of them. It’s a confused mishmash of stylised eccentricity which misses its mark. Division and uncertainty needn’t always be a bad thing, but here it just doesn’t make any sense.
The story, if you can call it that, is a fragmented and hallucinatory journey set in a seedy, run-down hotel, with one room in particular playing host to a series of different guests, a mixed bunch of desperate souls, each dealing with fractious relationships, battling their own demons and facing existential crises. A simple set up with a large scope in which to create some interesting characters and situations. Sadly, though, it ends up being a wasted opportunity. Not capitalising on its possibilities there is little else to fall back on, neither a decent plot structure nor the edginess of, say, an arthouse film. It swims around in a noncommittal sort of way, just treading water.
As for the visual style it lies further from conventional genres and more towards surrealist works of directors such as David Lynch or Peter Strickland, for example. A film where the focus is more on capturing an overall vibe. It does at least manage to achieve this, there is a consistency to the dilapidated, shabby interiors and dour atmosphere.
Director Julio Maria Martino’s transition from directing plays to this, his debut feature, is ponderous and stagey. Perhaps some of its shortcomings were down to working within this new, unfamiliar artistic medium. The characters here are conventionally stock, their mannerisms and dialogue cliched. This is equally the fault of a flimsy script and weak performances. What would have helped is for them to have more depth, or at least reflect the same uneasiness of mood. Instead they come across merely as self-absorbed cliches, none of whom compel us to feel any sympathy or engagement towards them.
The monotony is occasionally punctuated with moments of action, usually violent or sexual outbursts, though even these fail to spark a dynamic shift in pace or tone. Some further development could have provided a bit of insight, or at least some interest, and also helped the narrative flow. But without the chance to expand substantially on these events they defuse the drama and the film reverts to its flat, dull rhythm.
Needless to say I found Country of Hotels hard work. The film didn’t really have anything to say, with no plot to speak of, no purpose and no point, or maybe I just missed it. Either way it left me disappointed and fatigued.
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