May 17th, 2017 - Review by Mark Schwab
Whenever I hear of an independent film production attempting a period piece, I usually wince. Right now, indie film productions can reasonably go back to maybe...the 80's...without breaking the budget or looking low-rent. When indie writer/director/editor Pedro Pimentel's film THE SECOND LIFE appeared in my inbox and I found out it is based on a story from 1860(!)...well, the hairs on my neck stood up and my face probably looked like I was sucking on a lemon. It's a fine line between ambitious and foolhardy and most indie filmmakers end up being the latter.
Based on Machado De Assis' story of the same name, THE SECOND LIFE tells a strange tale for its time. On a dark and stormy night (might as well stay classic here), a strange man named Joseph Maria (William Galatis) knocks on the door of one Monsignor Caldas (Craig Capone). Demanding to be let in, our disheveled protagonist tells his story to his captive audience of one as Maria emotes an almost confessional-like narrative to Caldas. His story is about his past lives that have traumatized him to near madness and we flashback to those past lives and forward to the present building to a grim conclusion.
For a story from 1860, this is pretty out there. I'm sure it would have caused quite a stir around the saloon and especially in the churches. It was a very audacious idea for Pimentel to look at this material and think "Yes! Indie film gold!". De Assis' story is gnarled, very diffuse and consists of dialogue filled with acting land mines ("Do you know what a supper of lads and lassies is?").
Which is where Pimentel and his cast get tripped up the most here. Not having read the actual story, I'm going to assume he stayed way too faithful to the stuffy 19th-century dialogue. It's like nothing was adapted or adjusted for the screenplay meaning William Galatis' Joseph Maria literally narrates the entire story either directly or in voice-over like he's reading from a book. Although Galatis tries his best, I think this part was basically impossible for anyone to do well - too much of this exposition is simply undeliverable in movie form. It wouldn't have been easy, but this story could have been told much more visually instead of making the characters literally attempt to speak everything out. Pimentel also needed a sterner hand on the ending where the blocking of a key fight scene is awkward and goes on so long that it drifts dangerously close to self-parody.
However there are some things that are downright amazing about this 36-minute oddity which must be recognized. First and foremost, the period detail on display here is....stunning. The credits list Rebecca Howland as the Production Manager so I'll give her a shout out for pulling off pure 19-century down to the last melting candle. Next is the music score...gorgeous and lush by Spencer Creaghan...so good in fact that it's the type of score you would actually purchase. Last but certainly not least is the cinematography credited to two folks - Jonathan Olsen and Jonathan Geddis. I see and have seen a lot of indie films and I don't think I've ever seen photography this skilled from a 10-day indie production - the use of candlelight and shadow as well as outdoors...the time period is never in doubt and I found myself fascinated just by how everything looked. Olsen and Geddis actually create a genuinely original look here instead of obviously copying from other films which deeply impressed me.
Yes, the dialogue is heavier than what his cast can lift and the musty story moves in fits and starts but Pimentel still managed to put together one of the most ambitious indie productions I've ever seen which is visually strong enough to be projected on a big screen...a significant accomplishment. He's assembled a superb crew behind the camera. We should all look forward to when he finds the right material to put in front of them.