Tonjia Atomic’s CLAUDIA QUI is a textured and fascinating film with a strong sense of atmosphere and some great performances, but is nearly sunk by a protracted run-time that stretches every positive element to its breaking point. What should be an intimate, eerie character study borders instead on the tedious, with a conclusion that ends up feeling more like a relief than emotionally satisfying. There’s a great 30 minute short film here, but at 62 minutes the film simply overstays its welcome.
Which isn’t to say that it’s bad. It’s actually an exceedingly well made micro-budget production, and avoids the audio and video pitfalls that plague similar films while presenting what is – for much of the running time – an engaging semi-supernatural tale. It’s not explicitly horrific, but instead captures a dreamy atmosphere reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”, with a character similarly obsessing over a deceased character until it seemingly possesses her. I say seemingly because Atomic, cleverly, makes the ghostly elements just vague enough that they could be the product of mental illness.
After a photoshoot, artist/photographer Claudia Piovani discovers a mysterious vintage photo among the pictures she’s taken of an unknown woman. At first intrigued, she uses the photo for inspiration, but soon begins to obsess over it – even having continual dreams where she’s dressed in similar clothing to the woman in the photo. Her obsession eventually begins to alter her personality, worrying her boyfriend Mark (Don Ayers), who soon gets frustrated at Claudia’s unwillingness to see how the photo is affecting her. Things come to a head at a gallery showing of Claudia’s work.
It’s an ambitious story to attempt, but Tonjia is assisted by Barbara Burgio’s wonderful performance as Claudia. She brings real emotional honesty to a role that demands that she descend into unpleasantness, and she brings a believability that is continually impressive. Don Ayers is quite good as well, but this is Burgio’s show and she is continually the most engaging thing onscreen.
It’s just a shame that she isn’t given more to do, as there simple isn’t enough plot to sustain the action across the running time. Claudia’s mental collapse and Mark’s mounting frustration are both engaging, but without any subplots or notable supporting characters it feels like the characters rapidly start lagging behind the audience. Within the first ten minutes most people will know the direction the story is going in, so the reinforcing of Claudia’s slow descent and continual dreams quickly becomes tiresome.
This isn’t helped by some of the dreamy texture being undermined by the editing, which relies heavily on fades to black. It makes the whole film feel episodic, and hurts the momentum of the work as a whole. It contributes to the – likely intentional – sense of deja vu, but also feels amateurish. Editing is also a problem in the few musical interludes in film. The soundtrack (by Luminol, which features both Ayers and Burgio) is terrific, but using full songs feels excessive. I got the impression that pieces of the film were meant to compliment the songs, rather than vice versa.
None of this criticism is meant to devalue how unique and polished much of CLAUDIA QUI is. It captures a mysterious spirit that is rare in low-budget genre film-making, and features some truly impressive performances. With some trimming, it could be something truly special. In it’s current form, however, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Three Nightmares out of Five – Shows Potential
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
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