Zoom, a Brazil/Canada collaboration, is also a fledgling attempt: both director Pedro Morelli and screenwriter Matt Hansen are virtual newcomers to filmmaking. While the movie shows considerable promise, it sometimes comes across as a film school project rather than a professional effort, more interested in playing with novel ideas than with presentation. It is still good fun, a film full of theoretical trickery which manages to avoid taking itself too seriously.
The concept is far more important than the actual plot, and drives the entire film. It deals with the relationship between writer and fictional character in a way that plays with the notion of reality and has fictional characters come to life and interact with their creators, as in popular films such as Stranger Than Fiction. What is different about Zoom are the multiple twists on the theme, which ends up less like a storyline, and more like one of M C Escher’s multiple viewpoint images – in particular, Drawing Hands, in which pencil sketches of two hands are seen to be drawing one another, whimsically turning the artwork into the artist.
The film contains three separate but interwoven stories, centred around three significant characters. First we see Emma (Alison Pill), a young woman who works in a factory which manufactures lifelike sex dolls – an early reference to the idea of creating an imaginary person. Emma has a dull life, little respect from either men or her peers, and an unpromising relationship with a crass and indifferent colleague. Her one satisfying outlet is creating a comic book, which features the adventures of her imaginary, ideal man.The second character is Michelle (Mariana Ximenes), a former fashion model who dreams of being a writer. When her lover scoffs at the idea that she could possess writing talent, she flees home to Brazil, determined to complete her unfinished novel. There, her life takes a series of odd and unexpected turns.
The third character and storyline follows a film director, Edward (Gael Garcia Bernal), who has met with success by producing popular action movies, but who now wants to create something with more depth. He is struggling to convince financial backers to fund his less mainstream project. The film takes an unexpected turn when Edward’s storyline is introduced, as it is entirely animated, beginning with vaguely drawn, grey images, and gradually introducing detail and colour. We come to realize that Edward’s world is the invented reality from Emma’ s comic book.
As Emma works through her personal problems, her comic book character becomes both more real and more unlikeable, almost as if he were changing without her participation, until she strikes out at him by altering his image, changing the ‘real’ Edward’s life and destroying his self-confidence. Meanwhile, Emma’s own life is getting unpredictable and full of discrepancies, as if it were being experimentally rewritten in a haphazard fashion.As we gradually learn, not only Emma, but all three characters actually are being rewritten – by one another. The lives of the three begin to intrude on one another. The pace of the film picks up as we move more and more quickly between one character’s universe and another, and identify the links between them. We follow the trio of author/characters as they discover the truth about their situation and make efforts to contact their respective creators and stabilize their own, and one another’s, existence. The situation is finally resolved in an ambiguous way which hints enigmatically at further, unknown levels of reality beyond what is shown in the film.
Making one of the fictional universes an animated comic book version was a risky choice; the film’s one actor of any stature, Gail Garcia Bernal, is never seen in reality, only appearing as the voice of a cartoon replica, which detracts from the authenticity of his portion of the story. All the same, it is an interesting idea that was handled fairly well. The forced wackiness of parts of the plot is a little overdone; so is the inclusion of some very contrived sexual content, apparently meant as comedy, which often fell flat. Nevertheless, this is one of the liveliest and most original films of its kind. It serves as a multi-layered mystery as well as a straightforward drama, is based on an intriguing idea, and is overall an excellent first effort.
For further viewing:
In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen’s 1985 Depression-era fantasy, a fictional character walks off the movie screen and into real life, allowing for both comical and poignant reflections on the difference between reality and illusion.
Terry Gilliam’s 1998 semi-biographical comedy-drama, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, deals with the life of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the only possible way: my mixing fact and fantasy, and even including one of Hunter’s imaginary beings as a character in the film.