'Ilusión' (unrated)

The title of Ilusión, the debut of writer-director Daniel Castro (who also plays Dani), translates into something more akin to Hope or Enthusiasm than Illusion. Dani is a dreamer, an eternal optimist, and you can’t help but love his glass-half-full point of view, even though he also happens to be a grade-A jerk.

He lives with his girlfriend (Barbara Santa-Cruz) but doesn’t help pay the rent, so she kicks him out. After he watches The White Ribbon, he records a message to director Michael Haneke, calling him the kind of killjoy who, if he walked into a room where someone was watching porn, would immediately point out all the fake breast enlargements on the actresses. Dani doesn’t believe people are cynical, and he encourages Haneke to embrace joy. Then, a few scenes later, when a customer at a bookstore where he’s just gotten a job tries to buy three Haneke movies on DVD, Dani freaks out — “Every time a film by Haneke gets sold, the world gets a little worse!”— and quits his job and runs away. He can’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t share his view on things. Why can’t things just be like he wants them to? Why does no one appreciate his genius?

Ilusión was made on a low budget and runs just over an hour (although you should stay in your seat during the credits to catch Coda, a three-minute, gut-busting follow-up to the main attraction Castro directed after winning several awards on the festival circuit). But unlike American indies of its ilk, the film is sharp and shrewd and surprisingly profound, with little navel-gazing. This is a comedy about the fate of a man in love with art and its potential to change the world, but frustrated by his lack of resources to give voice to his ideas.

The movie is a comedy, and a boisterous one at times, but it’s leavened by a light touch of melancholy. When Dani spends the night sleeping on a park bench, using a framed poster from Annie Hall as a blanket to keep himself warm, you almost feel sorry for him. The genius of the movie is that it doesn’t take long for Dani to remind you what a world-class idiot he can be, too. Catch Ilusión now, as it makes its U.S. premiere, and later you’ll be able to brag you knew about Daniel Castro way back when.

Cast: Daniel Castro, Barbara Santa-Cruz, Felix Viscarret, David Trueba, Victor Garcia Leon.

Writer-director: Daniel Castro.

Running time: 64 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.

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