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ADFF film review: Magical Girl

This knotty Spanish drama reveals itself to be much darker than its initial set-up suggests.
A scene from the film Magical Girl by Carlos Vermut. Courtesy ADFF
A scene from the film Magical Girl by Carlos Vermut. Courtesy ADFF

Magical Girl

Director: Carlos Vermut

Starring: Marina Andruix, Julio Arrojo, Luis Bermejo

Four stars

Magical girl, or “majokko” in Japanese, is an anime­ sub­genre, known for pretty, pink cartoon heroines who cast spells. But mirroring the way manga’s ­deceptively childlike packaging often disguises disturbingly adult themes, this knotty Spanish drama reveals itself to be much darker than its initial set-up suggests.

Alicia is 12-year-old girl terminally ill with leukaemia, and her doting unemployed father Luis would do anything to make her happy. So when he skims her diary and finds her one wish – a manga-inspired designer dress costing €7,000 (Dh33,000) – he does everything in his power to get it.

In a parallel story, Barbara is a mentally unstable woman living in something resembling house arrest with her husband/doctor. When she crosses paths with Luis, it sets off an increasingly twisted chain of events which results in bloodshed, blackmail and many more unmentionable revelations of the kind that appear to exist only in arthouse cinemas. The second movie from Carlos Vermut, the talent behind cult hit Diamond Flash, Magical Girl has already scored big, winning both the Golden and Silver Shells at San Sebastián, home wins for the film and director ­respectively.

Tactically paced, beautifully shot, heavy on symbolism and with a noirish script brimming with mystery, deception and moral ambiguities – there’s a clear Lynchian influence to Vermut’s world, where terror looms and predictable human behaviour is not something one can bank on. A thinking audience will be on the edge of their seats waiting for a multitude of mysteries and motives to be unravelled, but little resolution comes when the credits roll, because this film is more about conjuring a shocking, but at times blackly comedic, sense of intrigue than tying up loose ends. Not for the faint-hearted, Magical Girl ranks among the most viscerally affecting works you’ll see at cinemas, and signals the arrival of a major new directing talent.

• Second screening at Vox 5 October 31 at 9pm

Updated: October 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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