I am currently travelling with two other LateNite Films people at MIFF, and we all went and saw this film, titled Marimbas From Hell. One person thought it was a complete and utter waste of his time, another thought it was seriously funny – so hilarious that he kept on giggling like a school girl all the way to dinner (and no, it’s not hard to guess which member of our team I’m talking about). Personally, although I liked elements of the film – and yes, I did laugh at a few of the jokes – it was also one of those festival films where you just can’t wait for the closing credits. It was painful to watch, because it was slow, predictable, and just plain dull. It was also projected in the wrong aspect ratio – which never helps things!
When we walked into the theatre, we thought we were in for a funny, but real-life documentary. When the film opens with an interview with Don Alfonso in his very bare home – apart from his beloved marimbas (a variation of the xylophone) – and starts talking about how he lost all his personal belongings from being blackmailed, and is forced to hide away in fear that the criminals will come back and burn his beloved instrument (an instrument so intrinsic to Guatemalan musical culture, much the same as bagpipes are to the Scottish). But just the nature of the questions, the sometimes hilarious response from Don Alfonso, and the camera work in general, just oozzed “this has to be a mockumentary”. To be perfectly honest – I’m still not sure whether this movie is a true story or not – but I assume (and almost hope) that it’s not.
Don Alfonso eventually leaves his bare home, and in an effort to raise much needed funds, plays folkloric music in a fancy hotel in Guatemala City – unfortunately not one middle-aged tourist raises an eyelid – and due to the population’s lack of interest in his instrument, considered completely out-of-date and old fashioned – he is fired. Out on the streets, his former band mates fight him for the possession of his instrument, calling him selfish for “going solo”. Admittedly, this has to be one of the funniest scenes of the film – watching the childish fight take place with a locked off camera, as the marimbas is dragged from left of screen to right – with the weapon of choice being a rubber sandal.
Finally, in an effort to try and regenerate some real public interest in his beloved instrument, and also to dig himself out of his substantially big ditch- Don Alfonso, with the help of his slow and dim-witted godson Chiquilin (who was injured as a child) gets in touch with a pioneer of the Heavy Metal Guatemalan underground world – Blako (who also happens to be a doctor at the public hospital – but no one wants to be treated by him due to his long hair, tattoos and intimidating nature). Don Alfonso’s plan – to incorporate the marimbas in a heavy metal band, called Marimbas from Hell!
The rest of the movie is really all about trying to get the band off the ground. There are some really subtle, but funny moments, but there are also some scenes that drag out for so long, it will make you want to punch the audience member next to you. Although some people found these scenes so drawn out it was funny – I just found it frustrating.
The movie looked like a low-budget documentary – sounded like a low-budget documentary – and was acted like a first year university film. I feel really bad saying this, especially as the closing sub-title stated that “this is a tribute to the people I know who develop projects that are unthinkable in a country such as mine” – as I can imagine that making films in Guatemala is hardly a walk in the park.
You never found out why or how our hero was blackmailed, no do you really get an insight into any of the characters back story. This film almost feels as if it was made up on the spot, with the actors just improvising and coming up with funny scenes on the fly.
As I said – some of it was genuinely funny – but it’s also the kind of movie that just makes you cringe, as scenes are so awkward and drawn out. Personally, I wouldn’t really recommend seeing this film unless your a massive fan of this kind of awkward humour.