In a desolate landscape awash in white mist, a man slowly walks up to the camera. On his arm stands a falcon. The man and the falcon continue to walk; they are hunting.
Thus begins “Zeus” (2016), directed by Miguel Calderón. Calderón is originally from Mexico City and his work spans a wide range of media; he has been an sculptor and painter, a video artist and a photographer. His paintings even appeared in some backgrounds in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.” This first feature film, shot with a cast of non-professional actors, has won him both national and international acclaim.
The story is simple. Joel (Daniel Saldaña) is a 33 year-old man that still lives at home with his overbearing mother Luisa (Ana Terán). Joel doesn’t seem to do or care very much about anything, except for spending time practicing falconry with his falcon named Zeus. Joel’s mother is a successful and over-worked surgeon who is always seen drinking a glass of wine. Joel spends his days in the fields outside of Mexico City hunting wild quarry with his falcon or at home, where his mother makes him do power-point slide-shows for her medicine-related presentations.
Joel is constantly plagued by dreams where he and his falcon murder (or in one instance, make love to) his mother. Eventually, he meets Ilse (Diana Sedano), a young woman who works with a friend, and he starts spending time outside his house, a development that troubles Luisa.
Codependence is one of the film’s major themes, along with an Oedipus complex streak that runs throughout all scenes between Joel and Luisa. Joel very clearly hates his mother and yearns to be alone, but at the same time is incapable of leaving her, even eventually ditching any romantic possibilities with Ilse in order to return with his mother.
The film presents Joel as a classic misfit, without any direction in his life. He mentions working on a novel several times, only for his mother to tell him off saying that he’s been working on it for years, going nowhere. He seems to have only one friend, and even he appears to barely tolerate him.
His mother is not so different; she is a successful neurosurgeon but spends her days sitting around the house, drinking wine. She at least seems to have one meaningful relationship; she sneaks out at night and sleeps with her neighbor, a relationship she hides from Joel, saying he “wouldn’t understand.”
Calderón chooses long, semi-static scenes and behind-the-actor steadycam shots, with the intention of making the viewer share the alienation of the characters. The soundtrack is similarly subdued, focusing on a main, classical theme.
“Zeus” is a good first film and a good start for Calderón.