Few things are more universal than waiting in line at a government office only to be greeted by a surly civil servant who seems intent on making your day miserable. Oftentimes we console ourselves with facile conclusions like, “I bet this person lives alone with a bunch of cats” – and in some cases that’s probably true. But what’s it like to put yourself in that person’s shoes for a day and understand what lies beyond the blank expressions and bad attitudes?
That seems to be more or less what drove Mexican-American filmmaker Natalia Almada to make her first fiction feature Todo lo demás (Everything Else), though the official synopsis claims it was inspired by the writings of German-born political theorist Hannah Arendt. Either way, the film is a slow moving study in ennui and existential emptiness that takes a lonely bureaucrat name Doña Flor as its subject.
Throughout the film’s 98 minutes, Flor goes about her crushingly dehumanizing daily routine, shuffling from the office to home where tends to her coterie of cats, and making a stop at a pool where she finds one of her only moment of release. Visually, Almada opts for a still, meticulously composed aesthetic that she’s hinted at in her documentary work, but here her camera is trained squarely on Academy Award-nominated actress Adriana Barraza (Babel, Amores Perros).
Sharing the screen with non-professional actors, Barraza brings a subtle gravity to this predominantly silent role, and allows the film’s drama to come forth from Almada’s painstakingly observant portrait. Todo lo demás is Almada’s first feature since receiving a MacArthur “genius” grant back in 2012, and fans of her previous work will be happy to see the Sinaloa-born auteur taking her work in new and exciting direcitons.
Todo lo demás had its US premiere as part of the 54th New York Film Festival.