Mexican director Jack Zagha Kababie’s third feature Warehoused (Almacenados) has a befitting title. The double meaning of the word “warehoused” – as both a place where you store goods and where you institutionalize people in deficient housing – summarizes this absurd existentialist, yet comical drama.
Based on the Spanish playwright David Desola Mediavilla’s play Almacenados, who also wrote the screenplay, the story involves only two characters in one large room. The director’s real cinematic accomplishment lies in the fact that the film never, even for a second, feels just like a captured stage play. In every temporal and spatial aspect Zagha’s effort breathes and moves like a film should.
Cinematographer Claudio Rocha, production designer Jay Aroesty and editor Juan Manuel Figueroa are in equal parts responsible for the successful result. But even more impressive are the performances from the two actors: 80-year old veteran José Carlos Ruiz, who also worked with Zagha on his previous feature, One for the Road (En el último trago, 2014); and newcomer Hoze Meléndez, who makes his first major appearance in Warehoused.
Ruiz and Meléndez are in perfect tune and in absolute control of the tiniest facial expressions and duration of glances. They both benefit from a background in theatre.
The story they so aptly portray sees youngster Nin (Meléndez) showing up at the warehouse belonging to the mast and flagpole manufacturer Salvaleon, where Mr Lino (Ruiz) is in charge. In five days he will retire after 39 years on the same position, and Nin will replace him. In other words: in just one week Mr Lino will have to teach Nin everything he needs to know, including the bizarre circumstance that there’s not a single aluminum mast to be found. The warehouse is completely empty. What’s the point in training a replacement, one might ask, when it turns out that all Mr Lino does all day is sit at his desk doing nothing?
The lingering meaning in this film, and for the two characters, appears slowly but surely before our eyes: it lights up and begins to fill the empty warehouse with other concrete things than the elusive masts. It consists of a mutual understanding of the existing predicament and the exchange of life’s perspectives.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to come to the conclusion that you’ve been devoting your entire working life to something without purpose. The ever-so-important existential groundstroke that echoes deep down in each one of us could be spelled out thus: Did this project called life make sense? Did I accomplish anything truly worthwhile?
This is indeed a question of Beckettian proportions. Inside the empty warehouse the two characters are waiting for things they both realize will never come, although they would never openly admit this, because to do so would propel them towards a mental precipice. All through the five days, Monday to Friday, Mr Lino and Nin engage in conversations, deliberations and strict office routines: measures that more than anything else function like a strategy to keep them buoyant above the inherent absurdity of their situation.
The only musical score in the film is the diegetic, beat-driven hardcore piece streaming from Nin’s earphones when he travels to the warehouse. If this particular music lends Nin a certain alienated slacker attitude (that subsequently fades away, along with the music), there is another anthemic song on the subject of alienation that springs to mind and eloquently lays bare the subtext: “What the hell am I doing here?” (a line from Radiohead’s alternative hit song “Creep”).
When Mr Lino, over the course of his last week as a working man, through the new revelations he experienced in the meetings with Nin ponders on his four decades at the Salvaleon company, he might touch upon concepts of self-deceit and meaning.
Through this fine screenplay and subtle direction, the very basis of human existence – the fact that we are present in the world and interact with others – comes across as a poignant and fulfilling feat in itself.
So perhaps there’s more to life than giving birth “astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more,” as Samuel Beckett concluded. For instance, it could be a week in a (seemingly) empty warehouse, where an unexpected encounter between two people takes place.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2016