Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) is a bold movie, and often entertaining, however it crosses several lines which play out badly. In consequence, it’s neither deep and thought-provoking, nor is it entirely joyful and bonkers to become a cult classic.
Recently I’ve been digging the new wave of Spanish cinema. Spaniards are the sparse filmmakers who push the envelope. A new generation, raised on the likes of Alex de la Iglesia, storms European festivals with movies such as Pieles (2017), Contratiempo (2016), El Hoyo (2019), La Cara Oculta (2011) and many, more more. All of these are unorthodox and untamed films.
Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019), a 2019 Sitges winner, isn’t any stranger to the bizarre and shocking either.
What is Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) about?
As the title suggests, it all begins on a sunny day when two people meet when commuting. A man, well-dressed, with grey hair, introduces himself as a psychiatrist (Ernesto Alterio). His interlocutor is Helga (Pilar Castro), who just a few hours ago – “parted” with her husband, leaving him in a mental institution. The grey-haired man begins a multi-level tale about conspiracy theories, lies and eccentricity, all conjured up by his patients.
An amalgamation of weird… and weirder stories
One of the major wins for director Aritz Moreno is an inventive approach to the film’s narrative. Like in relay racing, the various narrators pass on the torch, thus causing the layers of the story to overlap, commingle and then blur the line between what’s real and what’s not. As viewers, we’re never certain of the authenticity of each subsequent story. It’s a bothersome canvas of intertwined memories and tales, which captures the insanity of the characters we’re watching, as they’re confined within the borders of their own fears and issues.
Both eerie and disturbing are some of these short stories in Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019). Yet not all echo with an equal emotional impact.
One, as an example, finds a well-situated man get bogged down in a crime that includes snuff films with orphaned kids. Such a dreary topic hits quite unexpectedly, and not in a manner that opens the floor for discussion. What it actually does though, is feel largely misplaced. Among over-the-top Stockholm syndrome story (one that evidently draws from Bitch (2017)) or an ingenious part about garbage collectors, with a grand conspiracy theory surrounding it, some moments stand out for wrong reasons.
Moreno is more convincing when Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) reach for absurdity, and not an out-of-the-blue gut punch. As a writer, Moreno’s a fish in the sea when it comes to provoking uncomfortable situations, which dangerously edge towards horror. His script can be funny, and witty, when it steers away from muddy waters.
After all, that shock-mongering attitude, revealed more than once (the hurting children part isn’t the only eyebrow-raising moment), causes Moreno to miss a shot at a no-holds-barred, bizarre masterpiece. The director doesn’t thrash out these heavy-hanging topics, because of a multitude of ideas that flood the screen either. As a consequence, some of his wilder ideas work, while other hit a close-to-rock-bottom.
Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) is on spot with acting
Setting aside these drastic mood swings, Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) has nonetheless plenty to cheer for.
All three main actors – Luis Tosar, Pilar Castro and Ernesto Alterio – make a splendid job. Each one’s loony on his or her own, however only as a collective do they really complete the strange, dreamy vision of Moreno. I was particularly chuffed to see Luis Tosar’s delirious performance, only wishing there was more of his loony garbagemen conspiracy spectacle.
Moreno can’t also be denied a certain eye for aesthetics and visuals. Though not as sharp as, for example, his filmmaking colleague Eduardo Casanova (director of Pieles (2017)), Moreno too notices nuances of color contrasts, and tiny tweaks in lighting that help him establish certain moods. Also the score, composed by talented Cristobal Tapia De Veer, highlights a few stand-out scenes.
All in all, Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) isn’t precisely my jam, and while I appreciate Moreno’s skills and ambitions, this is a film of less value than it could have achieved. An original film it is, yes, but also a baffling one at times, and somehow less stylish than some of more auteur efforts by other filmmakers. Nonetheless, I believe Aritz Moreno will be a name to remember in the near future.
Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
Looney and entertaining, but also unnecessarily pushing the envelope, this debut by Aritz Moreno marks a rise of a potentially potent voice in the Spanish cinema.
Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019)
Hate Grade: 4/10
Director: Aritz Moreno
Writer: Aritz Moreno
Starring: Luis Tosar, Pilar Castro, Ernesto Alterio
Music: Cristobal Tapia De Veer
Cinematography: Javier Agirre
If you liked Advantages of Travelling by Train (2019), you might also like:
- Bitch (2017) – a freaky indie drama about a woman who assumes a dog’s psyche. It’s very close thematically to one of the stories in Moreno’s film.
- Utopia – a British tv series, offbeat and taking on very provocative turns
- Split (2016) – a superb thriller from M. Night Shyamalan about mental disorder and examining it