Zoom is the kind of film that plays well at festivals, but understandably might not have mass appeal outside of them. It’s the kind of cinema that’s so daring that it needs a springboard of some sort to find a way into the marketplace. A sprawling, multi-layered journey to the heart of the creative process, Brazilian director Pedro Morelli and Canadian writer Matt Hansen have crafted a singular work that demands the full and constant attention of the viewer, and even then it still won’t answer every lingering question the viewer has.
It’s also the kind of film that critics like myself miss the boat on entirely. When the film debuted at TIFF last year (en route to Hansen’s screenplay getting nominated for a Canadian Screen Award earlier this year), I admired it more than I actually liked it. Sometimes in this line of work, you’re forced to watch upwards of six to eight films a day at festival time. It sounds like a privileged thing to say (and it totally is), but around the third film, coming up with coherent things to say about a film gets harder and harder. Zoom was either the fifth or sixth film I had watched on the day I was assigned to view it, and while I can recommend the film, I can’t recommend the experience. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest watching any other films the day you watch Zoom. It has enough relentless energy, clever twists, and escalations to fill an entire season of a television show. To say that I liked it quite a bit more on a second viewing is a bit of an understatement. I certainly understood it more, but unlike the first time I watched it, I was vastly more entertained by it.
Emma (Alison Pill), a Toronto-area, custom sex toy craftsperson and budding comic book artist with buyer’s remorse over her new fake breasts, sketches out the life of her ideal man. Said ideal mate is a hotshot Hollywood director and lothario (Gael García Bernal, who’s section of the film is animated), normally known for action movies, but is making his first art film. The filmmaker’s story tells of a female novelist (Mariana Ximenes) new to the limelight, who takes off on an international getaway to work on her novel, which is about Emma trying to sell a bunch of cocaine with one of her co-workers (Tyler Labine) to raise money to get rid of her fake breasts. Emma gets upset with her creation, gives her dream man a small penis with erectile dysfunction issues, and everything gets thrown out of whack for all involved.
Morelli (Entre Nós) and Hansen work overtime to keep the interlocking insanity under control. It’s an experiment in storytelling and a larger allegory about the creative process, and one that takes quite a lot of time building the characters before starting to establish the connections. It takes a full hour for things to come to a head, but the individual stories are solid. Pill and Labine make for a highly likeable pair. Bernal has a great rapport with his sycophantic producer, played by Don McKellar. Ohana gets to play off of Jason Priestley as her increasingly concerned husband. Each section gets a lead actor and a great supporting one, lending the film a feeling of a great trilogy that has been madly stitched together. It’s not an easy balance, but Morelli and Hansen have the cast to pull it all together.
While Morelli’s stylistic flourishes and Hansen’s wit could be seen by some as being “too cool for school,” it’s all in the name of good fun. Hansen and Morelli just ask the audience to put as much into watching the movie as they did into making it. Barring that, they probably hope that the film has the effect of a great drug. At first you aren’t sure that it’s working, but if you stick with it and let it work, Zoom will make you positively high.