Jezabel (Omnibus Entertainment, NR)

Hernán Jabes’ Jezabel may not be an absolutely perfect film, but it absolutely sneaks up on you by its conclusion and becomes more than the sum of its parts. A lot of this effect is due to its construction as a narrative, as Jabes explores concepts like memory and egotism in some fascinating and surprising ways.

Jezabel is also notable for being one of the most disturbing films of this or any year, which you might never be able to tell by its first act. Venezuelan prep-school student Alain (Gabriel Agüero) and his equally upper-class trio of misfit female friends are all total hedonists, constantly making mockeries of their teachers and the world around them, especially anyone they perceive as beneath their social status. In structuring the film around the adult Alain’s memories of his shamelessly lustful and indecent youth, Jabes spends a little too long lingering on its excesses. However, as Alain remembers a truly disgusting turning point in his young life, the film earns its sharp tonal turn, and the mystery surrounding the death of one of his friends takes on many more shadows of doubt.

It’s worth noting that the adult Alain lives in 2033, where it seems that Venezuelan politics have fluctuated a bit from where they stand today, but have ultimately fallen back into wanton corruption. Alain’s flashbacks are set mostly around the 2014-17 protests against President Nicolás Maduro, and as many citizens protested inflation, price controls, corruption, and shortages of basic commodities, teenage Alain and his friends were basically testing the limits of what they could get away with in their sheltered little world. Keep in mind these teenagers are fictional. Their actions are not based on any specific facts, but rather on an educated class analysis. Their lack of self-restraint merely comments on privilege and how the “upper crust” views the “lower classes.”

The slightly more futuristic setting of 2033 further cements the film’s thematic and visual divide between the privileged and the poor. Jabes isolates Alain and his new lover Salvador (Erich Wildpret) in a land of concrete-walled high-rise apartments, screens, and neon lights, mostly separating them from the real world; from consequence. Salvador was a friend in Alain’s youth as well, and now as a well-respected journalist, he takes it on himself to find out who really killed Eli (Eliane Chipia), one of Alain’s main crew, years ago. One of their teachers was imprisoned for the crime when it occurred.

As I’ve alluded to, Jezabel is very proficient on a technical level, especially after leaving the somewhat awkward gaze of its early flashback scenes behind. It’s also truly groundbreaking in the way it reorganizes some of our judgments and preconceived notions about some of the situations it presents. Kudos to editor Clementina Mantellini, whose cuts are wonderfully decisive as the film morphs into a classic noir. What ties it all together by the end is Jabes’ skill at blending tone and setting with theme and message. As we realize what the true villain of this story is, we see what allows villainy like this to continue unabated. Because the film reshuffles itself in a satisfying way, we as an audience feel like we’ve come to that conclusion ourselves, even though we’ve been guided there in the background quite well all along. Just be warned: the villainy I’m referencing is some really, really sick stuff. This is not a film for the faint of heart, but there is ultimately a noble purpose behind most of what is depicted. | George Napper

Jezabel is now available on all leading video-on-demand platforms. In Spanish with English subtitles

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