Starring: Verónica Gerez, Pilar Gamboa, Rafael Spregelburd
Director: Fernando Salem
Running Time: 95 mins
How Most Things Work (Cómo funcionan casi todas las cosas) is an Argentinian film about a young woman who works in an isolated toll booth in rural Argentina. However, when her father dies, she decides to break out of her small town roots and go and find her estranged mother, who is allegedly living in Italy.
For a tiny little independent film from Argentina, I have to say that I was really surprised with just how well-crafted this film is. Not only does it feature strong production values, excellent directing and powerful performances, but it’s an incredibly engrossing watch thanks to a very cathartic story, looking at life from a brilliantly realistic standpoint, played out through conversations that feel 100% genuine.
I think that’s the best place to start off, with the fact that the film manages to harbour such emotional power and intrigue in a story that seems relatively unremarkable. There are a good few movies out there that try to deal with the bigger questions in life by stripping everything to its barest form, and playing out in a quiet and calm manner, but more often than not, they can stray into somewhat pretentious territory, getting too caught up in their grand message and not paying attention to crafting an engaging and affecting central plot.
That’s not the case with How Most Things Work, however. Above all, the fact that the story deals with big themes like people’s purpose in life from the perspective of people who feel as if they’ve already missed out makes it particularly interesting. Rather than being a film full of people discussing what they think life is going to be like, it’s so fascinating to watch people who feel as if it’s already passed them by delve into what went wrong.
As a result, the film does have a relatively sombre atmosphere, and from the moment in which our main character’s father dies, all the way to the beginning of her search for her mother, there is a distinctly dour air about the movie. However, that comes from the sense of sadness and loss in the lead characters, all of whom are reflecting on what could have been in their lives, something that I was absolutely entranced by from start to finish.
With all that said, however, there’s something very cathartic and relaxing about this film too. It’s incredibly quiet, it moves at a very slow pace, and there’s very little in the way of a musical score, or even vibrant settings, with the majority of the film playing out in the middle of the Argentine desert. Despite its sombre atmosphere, however, the fact that the story manages to delve into some absolutely fascinating discussions about life with no pretenses about finding all the answers (even the film’s title doesn’t have the answers to everything), makes for an utterly enthralling watch, which in tandem with its very patient style, makes for a particularly affecting watch throughout.
Director Fernando Salem does an excellent job at keeping the film’s feet on the ground, never letting the story go overboard when it’s discussing grandiose ideas about what could have been and what will be in life. What’s more is that the excellent screenplay, featuring very realistic and again down-to-earth dialogue, makes those conversations all the more riveting, and the characters’ hopes, dreams and regrets all the more relatable, something that’s absolutely integral to a drama like this.
And then there are the performances. In a film like How Most Things Work, the overriding impression you will get definitely comes from the directing, and that powerfully cathartic yet still sombre atmosphere. However, with a fantastic central performance by Verónica Gerez, who embodies all the weakness and fear that we all feel when it comes to the biggest turning points of our lives, and a collection of brief but powerful side performances, the actors do an excellent job at reinforcing the film’s intelligence and emotional core.
Overall, I really loved this film. Unexpectedly refined and well-crafted for a feature debut from Fernando Salem on such a low budget, How Most Things Work is a simple yet powerfully riveting film about the big questions in life, yet all dealt with on a small, relatable scale that you’ll easily be able to sympathise with, while its unique and affecting atmosphere allows for a truly cathartic viewing experience, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0.