Meant to Be Spent Alone: Hofmann Returns with Cynical Comedy on Privileged Facades
If hell is other people, perhaps they signify an even hotter level of it during dedicated moments of reprieve. Such is the surface treatment of Mexican director Sebastian Hofmann’s sophomore feature, Time Share, which is every bit as cynical a black comedy social satire as his 2012 debut Halley was a melancholic tale of existential woe hanging on the shoulders of society’s periphery. Featuring a lead character whose pretensions and privilege place him somewhere on the hysterical end of narrative in the vein of Spanish directors Nacho Vigalondo or Alex de la Iglesia (though leaning more towards a dry-socket cousin of the latter’s), Hofmann’s parable starts off like a hapless descendent of a National Lampoon Vacation comedy. Increasingly, mounting awkwardness takes a plunge into full-blown capitalist conspiracy thriller wherein corporate entities have begun to evoke emotionally vampiric tendencies to sell fantastical ideas of bourgeois inspired idylls to heteronormative families struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy.
Pedro (Luis Gerardo Mendez) and Eva (Cassandra Ciangherroti) arrive at the exclusive high-end time share resort Vistamar after what seems to have been a strenuous year requiring some rest and relaxation for themselves and their young son. Soon after checking in, they’re alarmed to find another family on their doorstep claiming to have a reservation for the same time period. As they attempt to sort out the double-booked fiasco, the increasingly agitated Pedro is mollified they must all room together seeing as his wife’s mental state seems a bit tenuous. Assigned to them is sales manager Gloria (Monsterrat Maranon), a woman coming out of her own familial trauma under the tutelage of the new corporate ownership of the resort, commanded by the disarming Tom (RJ Mitte). But Gloria’s estranged husband Andres (Miguel Rodarte), tired of years of neglect and suspicious of the new management, begins to sympathize with the manipulation of Pedro and his family, and conspires to assist them by revealing some chilling secrets about how the resort procures its clientele.
While it’s initially easy to sympathize with Pedro, he quickly becomes less and less likeable by design as Time Share wears on, even as his rebuke of the resort’s treatment (which is along the more realistic lines of the Kafkaesque nightmare in The Cure for Wellness) is understandable. But Pedro and Eva, however, are merely getting what they’ve paid for, arriving at a first-class resort on the heels of discounted sales event at a venue which insistently claims to be a paradise where there exists “no stress, only happiness.”
Of course, Vistamar can only superficially live up to this maxim, which Hofmann and scribe Julio Chavezmontes juxtapose with the incredibly troubled couple on the other side of the fence, Andres and Gloria, who have never recovered following the loss of their child yet remain steadfastly connected thanks to the glue provided by their euphemistically inclined occupations. Hofmann often poses Andres, who works in laundry services, while he’s contained, often photographed behind glass panes, or during a revealing discussion with his supervisor under visual layers of internal, incubated office spaces. A colleague confirms his placement in the company is in the gutter, “you can’t leave until you’ve become waste.” On the other hand, Pedro is sometimes presented as a reflection off surfaces—a composite of the ideal atop an imaginary, fluctuating surface. An initial visit with management plays like the otherworldly discomfort of a similar scenario in the hotel basement of Anomalisa, 2015. Neither are happy or fulfilled, both married to women who have recently experienced extreme emotional duress.
If the men get most of the screen time in Time Share, it’s their wives, Eva and Gloria, who tend to haunt after the credits roll. Assisted by the inspired casting of “Breaking Bad” alum RJ Mitte, who teaches then demands the impossible art of manipulation from his senior executives, which Gloria is being groomed for, one of Hofmann’s most anguishing sequences finds the woman acting out the process of winning the lottery, selling the experience of the impossible. “There’s nothing worse than being alone in this world,” is the constant mantra of Vistamar and those blissfully ignorant denizens who populate its superficial spaces, modified for the one size fits all mentality. But the subversive strength of Time Share is how it constantly proves the opposite of whatever ideals it’s depicting, and instead leaves one longing for a portrait of relaxing bliss more along the unintentional lines of Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away (1976).
Much like his assured debut (which gets a textual reference as a sticker on Andres’ locker, the character most similar to the decaying security guard in Halley), Hofmann knows how to leave us with a feeling of pent up discomfort and unease at the world and the characters he’s created. It’s an unsettled, ruffling experience of imperfect humans trapped in a world where they seem doomed to keep making decisions which will only further alienate and confound.
Reviewed on January 20th at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival – World Cinema Dramatic Competition. 96 Mins