When middle-aged composer Paul (Willem Dafoe) returns to the remote Mexican village of Real de Catorce following his father’s tragic death, gaining musical inspiration is the sole thing on his mind – until he hears about the mysterious tale of a young woman who had disappeared in the vicinity decades earlier, propelling him to abandon prior plans and wander off in search of her.
Daniel Graham makes his feature directorial debut in Opus Zero, a slow-paced, melancholic drama about life, art and the inevitability of death. A thematic and artistic mix of Ingmar Bergman’s and Michael Haneke’s styles, Graham’s film uses the metaphysical to subtly document human beings’ limited existence on Earth. Through his story-within-a-story exposition, which sees a group of documentary filmmakers shoot a number of scenes involving scenic backdrops and disappearing villagers, the director wishes to celebrate art, nature and creation as the primary catalysts of life, not secondary undertakings adopted as and when.
Though philosophically ambitious, structurally Opus Zero falters, with some elements of the narrative left loose-ended, as opposed to them wholly connecting and leading up to a climactic denouement. Willem Dafoe’s performance as the wistful and dejected Paul is spot on, but the lack of depth in the screenplay, with regards to character development, notably that of the protagonist – his evolution from who he was to the person he has become – may leave some viewers struggling to feel close to and, as a result, empathise with him.
Much of the film’s chromatic palette is dark-ended, with a mixture of blacks and blues permeating the projection, seemingly to create a sombre and eerie sensation, which emanates that of twilight. The cinematography does succeed in conveying the notion that through the murkiest of times come the greatest of inspirations, but this comes at the cost of compromising the narrative’s linear thread itself.
Opus Zero is released in select cinemas on 9th August 2019.
Watch the trailer for Opus Zero here: