Problemista Review: A Satire Of The U.S. Immigration Process And Toxic Work Culture [SXSW 2023]

Magical realism is a subgenre that can be interpreted in a very broad manner. After all, its core appeal is in how it depicts fantastical ideas in boringly real settings. However, the subgenre is often synonymous with Latin American art thanks to writers like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, being brought to the screen by the likes of Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

While not quite at the esoteric level as those pioneers, comedian and "Los Espookys" co-creator Julio Torres is certainly on his way there. If you thought his genre-bending HBO series was proof of this potential, then his directorial debut, "Problemista," only solidifies this. Alejandro (Torres), an aspiring creator of bizarre toys, is suddenly fired from his job, and he only has one month to find a new sponsor for his U.S. work visa. He believes he has found a potential savior in washed-up art critic Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), who offers him a freelancing assistant position and will sponsor his visa if he helps her set up an exhibition of her sort-of late husband Bobby's (RZA) work.

Torres' comedic and aesthetic stylings throughout "Problemista" tease the domination of an emerging auteur. That being said, some of its deeper messaging could prove to be divisive, but you certainly can't accuse it of not being thought-provoking and entertaining in spades.

Children must play knowing they are running out of time

Torres' creative eye is on full display in "Problemista" from the very first scene. It's hard to really describe these images without diving into spoilers, but they are quite visually stunning and effective in conveying the absurdity of renewing a U.S. work visa, as well as navigating modern life in general. He also has a great grasp of directing his relatively minuscule cast, especially an against-type and erratic Swinton delivering a performance that will bring to mind all the terrible bosses you've had before.

However, that could also end up making or breaking "Problemista" for a lot of viewers. Seeing Alejandro be berated and abused by Elizabeth, as well as bearing witness to her frequent Karen-esque outbursts, can blur the lines between humorous discomfort and actual discomfort. If you have ever been in a similar situation to Alejandro's character, the conclusion to this narrative will likely turn you off from the overall film, even if it is with the right intentions. However, if it was constructed to be a starting point for discussion, then Torres developed it perfectly.

If we had it our way, then this review would be far more lengthy. There is just so much to unpack with it, but alas, we would rather save the various surprises it holds for its wide release. "Problemista" won't be for everyone, but it doesn't want to be. It simply exists as its own magical thing, and for an auteur like Torres, that is the best possible result.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10