THE STORY – The 42-year-old Alicia is a grief-stricken woman, a grief that has caused her to be estranged from society. Her world is turned upside down when a 14-year-old boy who looks after people’s cars, stumbles into her house, bleeding.
THE CAST – Ilse Salas, Fernando Xavier De Casta & Manolo Cardona
THE TEAM – Abner Benaim (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
By Josh Parham
There’s an incredible amount of value in witnessing a small-scale drama that peers into the fractured lives of individuals. It is a spectacle on another scale that chooses not an indulgence on epic vistas and environments but instead explores the emotional landscapes fraught with conflict. This can often be the foundation for riveting storytelling, particularly if there’s great care paid to the meticulous unfolding of the narrative, giving way to an enticing thematic commentary. All of that is at the heart of “Plaza Catedral,” an effective if a slightly uneven study on people from different worlds finding a tender, resonant connection.
At the center of the film is Alicia (Ilse Salas), an architect who also works as a salesperson for luxury property developments. She finds herself passing through a moment in her life that is engulfed by a profound emptiness, recently divorced from her husband after suffering a tragedy involving their child. Living alone and emotionally isolated, she has fleeting interactions with a young street kid whom she calls Chief (Fernando Xavier De Casta). At first, she and the boy are antagonistic as his hustles to earn income by parking and washing cars are met with a chilly resentment. However, when Chief arrives at her apartment bleeding from a gunshot wound, Alicia rushes to care for him. As he recovers, the two begin discovering more about the other and begin a bond of compassion and understanding, which will eventually be tested when the darker sides of their past begin to reveal themselves.
Writer-director Abner Benaim does a commendable job at crafting this intimate examination that utilizes its narrow viewpoint quite well. The filmmaking creates an immersion right into the emotional perspective of the characters, and the moody score and strong aesthetic compositions add to the captivating tone. There’s a simmering tension that’s tapped into, which is quite compelling, drawing the audience into a suspenseful interplay that evolves into a compassionate dynamic between two damaged parties. One is immediately drawn into this stark yet engaging story that becomes more vibrant as it progresses.
At the same time, that momentum is not sustained all the way entirely through. For such an accomplished start, the film has trouble maintaining its strict composure and loses steam as it reaches the climax. The relationship that felt so earnest between these two starts to become stale, particularly as more backstory only showcases mundane and pedestrian motivations. The writing itself becomes more pompous, and as the scope opens up, the power that was found in the small spaces quickly dissipates. Most of the issues in the latter half would be tolerable were it not for a wholly botched finale that rushes through major plot developments and leaves one with a bewildering hollowness that fails to capitalize on a natural arc. It’s a shame that the final moments do a tremendous amount to undo much of the good that came before it because there was an inviting aura that led up to it.
Salas and De Casta are the focal points of the performers as nearly the entire film rests on them, though the former undoubtedly carries much more. There’s a reserved sadness that Salas expertly conveys, desperately trying to maintain a stoic exterior as the fragile core begins to force cracks in the façade. It’s a commanding portrayal that even manages to elevate the material, which sometimes fights against a more complex portrait. De Casta has an alluring screen presence that authentically captures a playful yet dangerous energy. His performance comes across as naturalistic, and the chemistry he shares with Salas is endearing. They are really the only members of the cast this story makes any investment in, which is appropriate because both anchor the film quite well.
A good deal of “Plaza Catedral” works on such a fascinating level in the methods it uses to display an engrossing sense of drama. The direction assembles an arresting intimacy that plunges into the emotional depths of its characters that is wholly riveting. Having that premise centered around two impressive performances only adds to the gripping nature of the piece. That is why it’s so disheartening to observe the downfall in quality once those stakes have been established. The execution becomes messy, and the ending is incredibly dissatisfying. Still, there’s enough presented that makes this an absorbing cinematic experience and, overall, a well-done analysis of stimulating drama.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film has a captivating drama at the center filled with tension and intrigue. The filmmaking crafts an intimate space that’s engaging. The performances from the two leads are compelling and offer an emotionally authentic portrait.
THE BAD – The latter half is not as strong, as the writing becomes stale and the characterizations lose a sense of nuance. The finale is terribly rushed and leaves a bitter feeling of hollowness right at the end.