Test-case examples of successful genre-juggling, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) always find a sturdy emotional centre from which to mix disparate elements of horror, fairytale and romance.
Eugenio Mira’s stylish, ambitious genre-spinner echoes del Toro and comes with his approval, but the Pan’s piper’s magic touch eludes this heady, muddled mash-up.
Scripted by Backbone co-writer Antonio Trashorras, in late-19th-century Spain, a young woman, Joana (Bárbara Goenaga), lives like a castle-bound princess, rendered dependant by the titular, perception-scrambling brain disorder.
Surrounding plotting scrambles up a neo-corporate espionage strand with a lovers’-triangle melodrama of mutable identity: convinced Joana’s late father, a lens maker, told her the code for a magnification device, a wicked weapons manufacturer (Martina Gedeck) concocts a twisty scheme involving dark chambers, dodgy doctors and Joana’s fiancé’s double to seduce secrets from her brain.
“It’s complicated,” someone sagely notes. Which would be fine if drawn-out conspiratorial non-intrigues didn’t blur the narrative focus on Joana’s emotional turmoil – clearly the story’s crux.
Mira’s a sure stylist, and he casts well: period details play like a high-grade Dickens adap via The Prestige and Gedeck chews scenery with relish.
Yet, with the story’s emotional core clouded, these are passing pleasures in an accretion of parts that don’t cohere. Like the snow that kisses the tragi-romantic climax, Agnosia looks lush. But its impact melts quickly.
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