Timecrimes (2007)

In one line, I feel the easiest way to describe Timecrimes (2007) would be science fiction without a budget. The film sees a middle-aged man who is one day attacked by a masked man and is forced to run for his life after he explores the woods surrounding his house. What follows is a rollercoaster of plot twists within plot twists, as the protagonist, Hector, discovers the tragic nuances of time travel.

Because of the time travel aspect of the story, things very quickly turn meta, as the spectator and protagonist becomes the director who becomes the storyteller of a narrative we see three different times. As the character and main vehicle for moving the story forward, Hector directs and oversees the movement of the story, making sure things go along exactly how he remembers them to and according to how he wants things to play out.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact genre for Timecrimes after one watch. I would think most would classify it as a science fiction, which is not the most unreasonable prospect; after all, it deals with the violation of a certain physics principle in an act of playing God. However, it can also be described as horror or a thriller because of the way it makes its audiences feel, particularly in its opening moments where a sense of dread permeates most scenes as Hector is suddenly plunged into a fight for survival. Yet it can also be described as a black comedy in all its complex twists and turns; I feel as though one cannot help but laugh at how confusing everything is, which by virtue of the plot becomes almost the main point of the film, all in the name of the protagonist covering up and undoing his past (present? future?) actions.

The use of sound also deserves mention here, as the eerie music at the start for instance serves to heighten the level of ambiguity and ultimately tension, which for a time leaves the impression similar to that of thrillers and horror flicks. Costumes were also utilized very well, albeit sparingly; Hector telling the girl to cut her hair for example, or the scissors he kept in his pocket throughout the entire affair.

Two elements of European cinema as outlined by Wollen (1972) present (pun intended) in the film are estrangement and identification: from the get-go, viewers will find it hard to understand and buy into the point of view of the character as this tends to constantly shift. Hector directs the girl but at the same time he initially started as a spectator. Part of it is that his function as a character changes. He does things to get his old self to do these things. For instance, his character is seemingly very unremarkable in the beginning of the film, which presents him as a balding middle aged guy simply enjoying domestic life. As the film progresses, however, he shifts from audience to storyteller to director. Us as the audience end up having to figure things out, piece the plot together on our own, and see where it goes. His role changes from victim to victimizer as he begins to take charge more. As a director who orchestrated the whole thing, he goes back to where it started by the film’s rather open-ended conclusion.

Narrative transitivity was another element that was masterfully demonstrated in the film. Truthfully, I found it hard to pinpoint whether the narrative structure is transitive or not. Not just the time travel aspect but the fact that the character himself does not know what’s happening at first. In terms of narrative structure: he’s trying to undo something (him looking at the girl through the binoculars) and at the end of the film, they end up back on the deck chair. Husband and wife just lounging around. Sort of starts with a thesis statement and restates it except differently.

This inquiry of the film’s narrative structure also leads me to question its diegesis. After first watch, I feel it’s easy to think of the three time periods as worlds of their own. However, the film is at the end of the day still an example of single diegesis in that it all still works together: we watch a single event that only happens once, but the character is inserted in different points of the narrative, but his relationship to the narrative changes.

All things considered, the film seemed to make use of all of these different elements to emphasize the concept of time travel, as the elements mentioned seemed to work together in giving time travel the main spotlight. The plot’s movement, the genre, the narrative and its structure, the characters and their points-of-view all ultimately pointed back to the time travel aspect and made Timecrimes a truly unique watch, one that I feel definitely belongs among the European cinema greats.

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