Written by Michael Clawson
Ask some people, and they’ll tell you that Amalia Ulman, the writer, director and co-star of El Planeta, might already have a masterpiece under her belt. A visual and web artist known in the art world for an Instagram “performance piece” that involved her adopting a hip, girly new persona and half-faking a lifestyle makeover (duping tens of thousands of her followers in the process), Ullman carries her previous work’s concern with class, appearances, and female identity into her perceptive, funny, and tender first feature, in which she performs alongside her real-life mother Ale Ulman. Together, Ale and Amalia play mother-daughter duo María and Leonor, who’ve fallen down the economic ladder to the precipice of poverty and homelessness, but are still clinging to the luxuries of the affluent. Without a job in economically depressed Spain, María routinely cons her way into enjoying fancy meals and fur coats, usually by asking restaurant waiters and upscale clothing store clerks to put her charges on the tab of a non-existent wealthy boyfriend. Leonor, meanwhile, looks to fund her online shopping through various other means. At one point, Leonor sells her sewing machine to someone on the street; at another, she considers prostitution, wondering aloud in front of a potential client if a €20 book she wants is worth giving him a blow job. It’s to Ullman’s credit as both director and actress that the latter scene plays out in such a dryly funny manner, as many moments in the movie do; El Planeta is poignant, but it never invites us to judge or pity its characters, despite the precariousness of their situation. Instead, Ulman encourages an appreciation for the allure of privileges and appearances that are available only to the financially well-off. Where her autobiographically-inspired characters strive for high style, Ulman’s cinematic style is pleasurably low-key; black-and-white cinematography and static frames bring Hong Sang-soo to mind, while jump cuts spruce up dialogue scenes and PowerPoint-esque transitions nod towards Ulman’s unique reputation for net art. With wit and stylistic resourcefulness to spare, El Planeta easily transcends its evidently modest budget.
El Planeta Trailer
El Planeta is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Video and Apple TV.