La maldita ilusión (The Bloody Illusion), Directed by Sergio Bonacci Lapalma
‘Gallego and Mary live in a small town called Las Tunas, in the province of Santa Fe – Argentina, isolated from the city with only 600 people.’ They share an idyllic life in the Argentine countryside, but they also have a dark past. La Maldita Ilusión is an unusual film that brings their story to life with purposeful direction and creative, well-executed editing.
The film switches back and forth between realities with editing moves that complicate the simple forward-motion of narrative. There is never a dull moment, though; this is an example of editing that manipulates time in the service of the film’s communicatory mission rather than for its own sake. The unusual presentation of the narrative, its disjointed imagery and frequent interruptions, its jarring movements through time – all serve to convey the internal struggles and symbolism of a life interrupted by the shock and confusion of alcoholism. The editing is artful and forceful, and the style is characteristic of earlier work by the film’s director, Sergio Bonacci Lapalma.
La Maldita Ilusión is undoubtedly an art film, and symbolic content centres everything about the plot and the development of its characters. Scenes that simulate addiction with shocking imagery and sharp sound flash across the screen, interrupting narrative but in the service of narrative. Animation features in some of these scenes, such as when an enormous animated spider weaves its web and traps its prey. There is insect imagery, too, but in the form of people: in one of these instances, Gallego (who is an alcoholic) stands frozen before a glowing porch light – transfixed like a moth, trapped like a spider’s prey (or is he the spider?), chained to his addiction.
The most significant accomplishment of the film, however, is the manner in which it deliberately combines fact with fiction. Gallego and Mary are a happily-married couple in the Argentine countryside with a troubled past. Gallego hasn’t had a drink in years, but before he stopped, alcoholism took its toll on their lives. The film documents the tumultuous past of Gallego’s addiction and its effects on their relationship. This is the documentary aspect of the film, and the truth of their beautiful story underpins the whole work. But in much of the film (and it seems that this was originally intended as the central focus of the film) Gallego and Mary appear as actors. They play their own lives, but as their younger selves: he drinks heavily, she suffers; she takes the children and leaves him.
But we know from conversations with the elderly couple (which also feature prominently in the film) that they do get back together eventually. That part is not acted out – and this is the significance of the interaction between fact and fiction that La Maldita Ilusión so expertly presents. Not only are there distinct scenes of acting and present-day interviewing with the elderly couple, but the voices of the present-day couple actually interpenetrate the acted narrative. As Mary, representing her younger self, flees the home with her children (played by her grandchildren), her voice narrates.
I had to go away from this house with my children. I cried a lot. I touched the sewing machine that was my livelihood… In every little place in the house I was feeling something and saying goodbye to what I left. But I did it out of love for my children, because I thought that somewhere else I was going to find better hope so that my two children could grow. They could leave behind the arguments I had with their father.
I was going to tell them another illusion.
Is this the voice of Mary herself, or Mary acting as her younger self? The seamless interaction of worlds – past and present; fact and fiction (though of course even the acted scenes representing the past point to something true as Mary’s and Gallego’s actual experience) – makes it difficult to distinguish between them. In reality, there is no distinction, and the film does an excellent job at presenting a unified, jumbled picture; the difficulty of interpretation is perhaps itself a metaphor for the jumbled world of the addict and the confusion of the people that love him. Clarity comes with the present-day testimony of Mary and Gallego, whose retrospective discussion forms the basis from which the viewer can understand the meaning of everything else. The story is powerful because it is real.
The film feels complete because it is unfinished. The imagery, the testimony, and the editing are powerful, but they are not refined. The film is messy because the topic is messy. The filmmakers themselves participate in the film: we hear their half of conversations, and occasionally they even find their way into the frame. This technique works so well because the rest of the film is polished – not refined, not simple, but polished – and the intervention of the filmmaker is another move, deliberate and spontaneous, to make the film more real. It works, and the story comes to life. ■
Runtime: 24 minutes
Genre: Art Film, Documentary, Short
Find out more
Find out more about this film and the work of award-winning independent Argentine-American director, writer, producer, and cinematographer Sergio Bonacci Lapalma on the pages for La Maldita Ilusión and Sergio Bonacci Lapalma in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as well as from the film’s page on Facebook.
Sergio Bonacci Lapalma has received numerous international awards for his films. He has worked with such critically acclaimed actors as Guillermo Francella, Boy Olmi, Alejandro Paker, Xavier Albertí, Marcelo D’Andrea, and Ricardo Holcer. Lapalma has made numerous music videos for the Argentine psychedelic band Poseidotica and is currently developing a feature film adaptation of a play by the Catalan playwright Josep Maria Benet i Jornet.
A trailer for La Maldita Ilusión can be viewed below:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Editor’s Note: Sergio Bonacci Lapalma served as a member of the Atlas Awards Jury in 2016, a position which he held after his film, La maldita ilusión (The Bloody Illusion), was reviewed by A&A and won accolades at the magazine’s festival in 2015. His membership in the Jury thus had no influence on this review nor on the results of the 2015 festival.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘La maldita ilusión’ (‘The Bloody Illusion’). Maldita Producciones.
This film is the 2015 recipient of the Atlas Award for Best Editing.