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Felipe Martinez Carbonell, Retrato Imaginario and the road to frightening art

Felipe Martinez Carbonell understands the power of art with deep conviction. He perceives that the stories which he manifests and presents to the world can transcend mere entertainment to achieve a clearer understanding of the trials and obstacles of others. The masterstroke of Felipe’s signature style is that he infuses these messages in a way that avoids any tone that might be received as preachy or condescending in favor of transferring the entire audience into the experiential state of the characters within his stories. The Argentinian filmmaker has been the recipient of resounding praise since winning “Best Short Film” at the Latin American Film Festival for Momento at only twenty-three-years-old.

Still in his twenties, through his work at Defiant Pictures, Carbonell has worked with some of the world’s greatest talent including Oscar-Winning actress Shirley MacLaine, two-time Oscar-Winner Jessica Lange, twice Golden Globe nominated Demi Moore, Hillary Duff, and others. His recent Horror film Retrato Imaginario is soon to be released and is already receiving a great deal of attention for its social statement rooted in the story. With comparisons to Jordan Peele’s Oscar-Winning Get Out and Us, Felipe Martinez Carbonell looks to be the next major name in this modern genre of film.

Retrato Imaginario centers on an artist named Valeria as she works on a portrait of her family for the anniversary of her mother's death. Her immersion in this creation reconnects her with her deceased mother as the lines that separate reality and other realms blur at the intersection of art. Valeria has suffered at the hands of the men in her life; a deranged father and an abusive grandfather. The way in which Felipe has structured and presented the story is remarkable in its lack of demarcation; that is, the audience feels a recurring sense of “reality vertigo” as they try to assess what is happening in Valeria’s mind and what is actually taking place in the physical world. Beyond the primary tale of this woman’s need to escape a potentially lethal scenario, the film’s creator has presented a subtext that art can transform one’s situation. Communicated with a light touch, it’s undeniable that Retrato Imaginario is Carbonell’s opportunity to chime in on the current state of women in society.

He confirms, “This absolutely is a social/political statement involving gender and the oppression of women by men specifically. The theme of the film is about the power of the art of liberating and changing lives. For this script, I was largely inspired by the ‘Me Too’ movement in the United States and ‘Ni Un Menos’ in Argentina. Valeria’s mother represents freedom and the past generation of women. Valeria represents the woman of today, power. One theme would be the struggle of the woman as an artist. This is made clear through Valeria’s desire to connect with her dead mother through this family portrait. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I cannot turn my back to another group who is being affected by the injustices of man. We must, through this shared feeling of injustice, fight together and support each other to bring a more free, just, and fair society.”

Toying with our ideas and preconceptions of reality is a recurring theme in the films of Felipe Martinez Carbonell, as evidenced by his award-winning film Momento (translated as “Moment” in English). The film is a collection of five “moments” that can be life altering. The first, a woman haunted by a strange presence in her home. The second, an elderly man grieving the loss of his wife encounters a divine spirit while visiting her grave. The third, about a maintenance man for the local theatre who must deal with the spirt of a ballerina who refuses to leave her place on stage. The fourth depicts a friendly elevator attendant who experiences déjà vu and the fifth presents a man and woman having tea while discussing a friend who is not as he seems. Throughout these varied tales, Felipe invites the audience to make an assumption and then displays how our own perception can be quite contradictory to actual events. The massive positive response to Momento and Felipe’s unique voice set a new course for the filmmaker. He credits this with defining for him the types of stories he wanted to tell as well as reinforcing his style, ability, and style of working with people.

With the approaching release of Retrato Imaginario and having completed a number of productions for Santa Monica based ad agency Acento Advertising (for Banner Health, ranging from live action to animated productions), Felipe is already working on a Feature Film tentatively titled Black Sunday which is set for release in 2021. True to Felipe’s artistic inclinations, the story follows a religious mother Laura and her son Andy while driving through the vast emptiness of the Great American Desert. A dark presence is announced, forcing Laura to use her faith to fight for the future of her son.

Adamant that setting is a very prominent part of his style, Felipe asserts, “For this film, the Great Depression Era in the Dust Bowl is ideal because it was a time of hopelessness for so many people. The main character is a woman who lacks support from a husband in a location that is decimated. As with Retrato Imaginario and Momento, I choose the location very tediously. Location is a huge part of how the story is told. For example, If I had filmed Retrato Imaginario in a modern home it would have been a completely different story and feeling. Time and place are two of the most important elements of a script. And to quote the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, the three most important things in film are “the script, the script, and the script.”

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Photo by Lourdes Ruiz


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