directed by Armando Luis Alvarez
‘Engrams’ is the directorial debut of Armando Luis Alvarez, who embarks on an ambitious ride with his first feature film. It largely draws thematic inspiration from sources such as the classic ‘The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and its muddled, ambiguous plot presentation feels like an interwoven style somewhere between the complexity of ‘Primer’ and the dreamy allure of a Terrence Malick production. Its main theme is centred around a never-ending search undertaken upon a questionable foundation of ideas, and without a well-defined purpose, hinting towards the premises of the excellent videogame ‘Braid’.
As the background and context behind the plot gradually unfold in an almost reverse-chronological fashion, we learn more about the character of Joe, about why his project undertaken alongside his best friend Ralph did not reach its intended target, and about why his girlfriend Samantha left him. Ultimately, it is a story about depression stemming from failure: Ralph fails to be a good friend and bring a positive contribution, Joe fails both his experiment and the relationship with his girlfriend, while Samantha fails at finding a purposeful occupation and a meaningful relation to others.
Joe treasures his past life with Samantha so much that he goes on an impossible ‘rescue mission’ through Europe, but fails to realise that a lot of these memories are dominated by dullness and feel strained. He ignores the great potential chemistry with characters he meets in Belgium, Poland, Macedonia and Greece, refusing to reciprocate a smile and constantly talking about his obsession with his lost girlfriend. His scientific mind refuses to compromise and see the beauty of a crooked forest in Poland, the winding Transfagarasan mountainy highway in Romania, or the historical allure of ancient cities in the Balkans. He is constantly pondering his place in all those locations, fails to learn anything and gets more and more miserable the more he realises that finding his girlfriend is slowly becoming a fantasy.
For a directorial debut, Armando Luis Alvarez does a very good job in directing and editing the film. He takes full advantage of all the beautiful locations which we, as the audience, can see, but Joe cannot. Given the clear influences of Malick and Carruth, among others, the deeper story of ‘Engrams’ is at times difficult to comprehend, and multiple viewings might bring about a complete picture, and shed more light on the ambiguous elements which make up the plot. This film is not for everyone, but the niche which is likely targeted by it will most likely enjoy the ride!