The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Aaron Bros Sidebar

A New American Dream in Julio Torres’s “Problemista”

Associate Arts Editor Toby Chan reviews A24’s newest release, “Problemista.”
Julio+Torres+in+Problemista.+Credit%3A+A24.%0A
Julio Torres in “Problemista.” Credit: A24.

The search for a lost egg, a Craigslist genie, and a wormhole-traveling cryogenics chamber are just some of the things you’ll find in Julio Torres’s Problemista. Centered around a 20-year-old trying to find his way in New York City, Torres’s feature film debut is a witty and humorous exploration of what it means to be an immigrant, artist, and idealist.

Alejandro (Julio Torres) is a young man who has left El Salvador for the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a toy designer. After being fired from his job at a cryogenics facility, Alejandro races to find a sponsor for his work visa. He soon finds himself working for an eccentric and abrasive art critic, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), who struggles to come to terms with being left behind by Bobby (RZA), her cryogenically frozen artist husband.

Alejandro’s journey is rife with the challenges that immigrants face. Scrounging for rent, desperate for a job, and pummeled with overdraft fees from Bank of America, Alejandro barely keeps his head above water as he struggles with the reality of unemployment.

Yet Alejandro is just one part of the film’s story. After a fall from grace in the art world, Elizabeth struggles to reinvent her and her husband’s legacy by putting on a new art exhibition. While the two characters cannot seem more different—Alejandro is young, quiet, and unassured, whereas Elizabeth is jaded, maximalist, and over-the-top—the two are both, at heart, dreamers who tread their own paths. Alejandro teaches Elizabeth the value of kindness in getting through to others, and Elizabeth teaches Alejandro that sometimes dreams have to be demanded to become reality. Just as fashion amateurs become fashionistas, the two become problemistas as they weave through problems in pursuit of their goals.

The narrative techniques employed in Problemista are as creative as its premise. The film switches between the real world and a fantasy realm in which Elizabeth takes the form of a monstrous hydra and Alejandro is a helpless knight. Visual metaphors are aplenty: people disappear into thin air when their visas expire, and a warehouse of hourglasses keeps record of immigrants’ limited time in the country.

Perhaps Problemista earns its name from the questions it poses to the audience. What does it mean to believe in a dream? What defines bravery when it comes to leaving or staying? While Torres’s messaging may not always be subtle, there’s a sincerity in Alejandro’s monologues that makes Problemista undeniably heartfelt. Torres’s creative and original debut makes for a compelling, if not universally inspiring, watch.

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About the Contributor
Toby Chan, Associate Arts Editor
Toby Chan is a second-year from Hamden, Connecticut. He joined The Maroon winter quarter of his first year when he covered a Moby Dick puppet show for his TAPS class. On campus, he’s an RA for Dougan-Niklason and co-Editor-in-Chief of Sliced Bread, UChicago’s arts and literary magazine. He’s passionate about covering the Chicago music and theater scene and looks forward to making more trips downtown this year!
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