Review: Floyd Russ merges pandemic reality and the surreal in debut feature ‘Ayar’
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Nearing the two-year mark since the ongoing pandemic first upended it all, filmic statements on the uncertain early days have begun to emerge. Floyd Russ’ resourceful debut feature “Ayar,” a meta drama correlating a loose fiction with factual elements from the lives of its two main actors, is among them and bargains in structural novelty.
Back in California after a long stint in Las Vegas — she left with a dream of showbiz fame — Ayar (Ariana Ron Pedrique) wants to see her young daughter.
But her indignant mother Renata (Vilma Vega), who is also the girl’s caretaker, uses the risk of infection as justification to deny the meeting. Ayar’s distress over the situation manifests physically as climbing plants take over the walls of her motel room. And a bad romance and an unsupportive father haunt her in flashbacks with less inspired surrealism.
From that framework, Russ unspools purposefully erratic ideas wrestling for space amid cinematographer Corey C. Waters’ ethereal shots. Each character gets introduced via a rapid photo montage of the real person embodying them. Breaking the fourth wall, some supporting players also reference the film we are watching.
As if aiming for the opposite of the suspension of disbelief, the filmmaker makes us hyper-aware of the artifice by highlighting the behind-the-scenes truth. Recorded video calls between Ron Pedrique, originally from Venezuela, and Vega, born in Cuzco, Peru, as the pair prepared for the shoot, reveal how profoundly their lives overlap with their roles.
Though Russ’ whirling of nontraditional structure and unexpected themes has trouble congealing, and the unintentionally melodramatic dialogue hinders the otherwise intuitive performances by the two stars in the making, there’s commendable bravery to the ambitious approach of this humbly budgeted production.
In centering the cast’s origin stories as raw material for the scripted drama — which includes alluding to Vega’s Indigenous heritage by taking the titular first name from Ayar Cachi, a feared figure in Inca mythology — the director unearths more about intergenerational baggage than a straightforward mother-daughter dispute could.
In English and Spanish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Glendale
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