Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

‘Problemista’ Is a Carefully Thought-Out, Innovative Comedy


“Problemista,” the debut feature from writer, director and actor Julio Torres, is an imaginative depiction of the American immigration journey. 

The surreal comedy, which debuts March 22 after a limited release March 1, takes viewers on an adventure through a young man’s unique yet familiar attempts to maintain a work visa. Alejandro (Torres) finds himself in New York City, desperate for work opportunities, visa sponsorship and personal connection. 

Alejandro, an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador, finds himself rapidly immersed in a new world when he accepts a job working for an eccentric art critic Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). The pair meet after Alejandro is fired from FreezeCorp, a company that allows people to freeze their bodies with the hope of being revived in the future. Eager for employment, Alejandro helps Elizabeth embark on her attempt to resurrect the legacy of her husband, an artist who chose to freeze his body after a terminal cancer diagnosis. 

As Alejandro tries to keep up with Elizabeth’s chronically disorganized stream of consciousness and equally inconsistent tasks, he is reminded of the imminent threats the immigration system poses to him. 

Alejandro is constantly seeking preservation against a ticking clock, a motif that flashbacks to Elizabeth’s living husband effectively parallel. He faces repeated reminders of his lack of personal and professional security, a feeling heightened by Elizabeth’s haphazard decisions. Viewers witness Alejandro begin to succumb to capitalism by seeking out the frightening world of Craigslist, a magically personified entity (Larry Owens), emphasizing the struggle of maintaining one’s dignity while navigating near-poverty. 

The hourglass symbolizes the impending pressures of Alejandro’s visa expiration, a motif that recurs on screen throughout the film. 

Torres said this symbolism reflects his own experiences with the immigration system at a March 1 press conference. 

“An hourglass in itself is not very threatening,” Torres said at the press conference. “When an hourglass stops, it just stops and it’s completely silent. It doesn’t make a sound. And that is what to me, in my own experience, what immigration feels like, that it’s this silent, baseless gloom that just sort of hovers over you. And when the time stops there’s no explosion; it’s just you know that you’re out of time.”

It is clear that Torres is telling a personal story of exploration, survival and discovery in the film. His character’s dedication to a seemingly distant dream does not waver, despite some of his own impractical choices. Alejandro, in a realistic fashion, makes mistakes as he discovers his place in New York City. These mistakes are an essential component of the process of discovery. 

Torres said these decisions were intentional and reflect his own imperfections. 

“I realized I made so many things harder on myself,” Torres said. “It’s so much better to humanize the immigrant and showing them as imperfect, because, just because you’re going through something difficult doesn’t mean that you’re an angel. Or just because you’re going through a struggle, it doesn’t mean that you are this sort of, wow, perfect.”

Alejandro’s connection to his dream is mirrored by how Elizabeth attempts to preserve the memories of her husband. Both characters find themselves chasing an alternate future, yet remain vulnerable to the limitations of their current lives. 

The film’s somewhat disjointed storytelling reflects the unpredictability of daily life. The surreal and peculiar moments placed alongside extremely realistic scenes remind viewers of the chaos that accompanies courage. 

It is this courageous pursuit that makes “Problemista” a story of discovery. Alejandro and Elizabeth must abandon the memories of their past lives to explore a frightening and unpredictable future. Quiet Alejandro and outlandish Elizabeth explore their somewhat common emotional vulnerabilities, in light of very different circumstances. 

“Problemista” portrays much more than Alejandro’s immigration experience. The film places an imaginative spin on the innate desire to hold on to a dream, as surrounded by realities that often reveal individual truths of humanity, connection and perseverance.

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