Omar Rodríguez-López has been a busy, busy man. After releasing half a dozen solo albums in 2009, he’s kicking off 2010 with a worldwide directorial debut in February at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Even more impressive, not only did The Mars Volta member direct the film The Sentimental Engine Slayer, but he also wrote it and played the lead role. The transition from musician to filmmaker is growing in popularity (RZA’s doing it, reports the Los Angeles Times), but it’s still not the most common one in show biz. Unsurprisingly, the trailer (available at the Chocolate Grinder) feels more like the start of a music video than a preview for a feature film. Beginning with a false calm, it becomes an erratic mélange of vaguely violent scenes full of splattered blood, sweaty faces, and a lifeless youth on the side of the road. It says very little in terms of synopsis, but rather sets the tone for an hour and a half of stylized abjection and helplessness.
The story is not really a new one: a troubled boy struggles to grow into manhood in a protracted coming-of-age tale (the character is already in his 20s). Set and filmed in El Paso, TX, Slayer writhes with angst as Barlam (Rodríguez-López) trudges through the banality of life: divorced parents, an addict sister (with whom he has an incestuous relationship?) — you get the picture. In search of that ever-elusive answer to post-adolescent disillusionment, Barlam’s world degenerates into a base nightmare of drugs and sex, finally confusing what is real and what isn’t.
The Sentimental Engine Slayer is part of the “Bright Future” section of the IFFR, which purportedly showcases “the most important, idiosyncratic and adventurous new work” from first- and second-time directors. However, Slayer — while Rodríguez-López’s first public release — is his third work as a director. In 2001 and 2003, he directed A Manual Dexterity and Letters from Dystopia, respectively. Moreover, since filming Slayer in 2007, the obscenely prolific Rodríguez-López has finished shooting two more: El Divino Influjo De Los Secretos in 2008 and Boiling Death Request (2009). What’s next on the list of mediums to explore? Interpretive dance?