Once in a blue moon, a trailer comes along that leaves us more confused about a movie than we were going in. Alicia en el país de María (Alice in Marialand) is one of those trailers. Alicia is veteran director Jesus Magaña Vázquez’s fifth feature and brings together A-list Mexican actors Bárbara Mori (Cantinflas), Stephanie Sigman (Miss Bala) and Osvaldo de León. Yet, despite the film’s telenovela-worthy cast, its official synopsis suggests a twisted, hallucinatory love story that at least partially explains the otherwise inexplicable trailer.
Tonatiuh and María are lovers who share a particularly tumultuous and violent relationship that comes to an abrupt end when a heated argument leads to a fatal car crash. Laid up in a hospital bed, Tonatiuh fades in and out of consciousness as he relives his relationship with María through his dreams. Attended by a nurse named Alicia, Tonatiuh soon begins to incorporate Alicia into his feverish recollections. The day Tonatiuh at last emerges from his coma, Alicia is hit by a car and left amnesic. When the two meet by chance a year later, Tonatiuh has the inexplicable feeling he knows Alicia, while she has no recollection of him whatsoever. They soon embark on a romance that is complicated when the memory of María eventually catches up to them.
Needless to say, the plot is more than a little ambitious, if not to say implausible and a bit convoluted. Stylistically, Magaña echoes the plot’s narrative twists and turns with a Steven Soderbergh-worthy hodgepodge of aspect ratios, formats and color schemes, bouncing chaotically between black and white, color, sharp HD video and grainy film stock. The Remezcla-worthy alternative pop soundtrack that accompanies the images, reinforced at the trailer’s close with the list of bands featured in the film, suggests a sort of hipster surrealism that may go over well with younger — how you say? — fresa audiences in Mexico, but the films avant-garde pretensions frankly seem a little too heavy handed. Trailers can be deceiving, but this may be another case of style over substance.