PROBLEMISTA – A Review by Cynthia Flores

PROBLEMISTA – A Review by Cynthia Flores

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when this movie was pitched to investors. Did it go something like this:

“Ya see, there is this quirky El Salvadorian young man that dreams of becoming a toy designer for Hasbro. He lives in a crappy little NYC apartment with several roommates. He is broke and desperately working to extend his work visa by the end of thirty days, or he will be deported. His last hope is to work for free for an out-of-control art critic who says she will sponsor him for a visa if he helps her with a special task. She is on a mission to save her cryogenically frozen husband by mounting an art exhibit. She needs to sell all his paintings that center around chicken eggs to afford his bills to keep him frozen.” 

I am sure that there were a few bewildered looks as writer/director/star of the film Julio Torres was about to be ushered out the door before he closed with, “And did I mention I have Tilda Swinton attached to play the art critic and Isabella Rossellini will be the narrator?” That last sentence alone would make most investors open their wallets wide. Lucky for us as the audience, I am so glad that Mr. Torres got the funding to bring his feature film debut to life.

Problemista is a surreal romp through the landmines of legally immigrating to the U.S. while slogging through NYC and chasing what most would call a crazy dream. Alejandro (Julio Torres) has a whole line of hi-concept toys he wants to create at Hasbro. Each one hits the screen like a wry punchline to a sick joke. The thirty-day countdown clock to attaining a new work visa adds to his struggles. He must work off the books for cash to pay for it, doing jobs that tax his body and soul. All so he can work for free during the day assisting a hot-headed art-world character named Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). With her flaming, grown-out red, scraggly hair, and fiery eyes, she dangles her ability to sponsor him for a work visa as the only answer to his problems. She is the type of boss who would make a hysterical “Karen” throwing a fit in a store look calm. Still, there is a budding kinship between the unlikely pair.

Problemista is a funny, inventive, and sometimes even tender film that shows influences from such great films as Jean-Pierre Jenuets’ 2002 hit Amelie, with some Tim Burton escapism thrown in for good measure. But even saying that Torres has created a storytelling style that is all his own. Torres used his experiences with work visas and, after graduating college, his struggle to chase his dream of writing and making films to fuel the heart of Problemista.

 He is quoted talking about his filmmaking style as saying:

“I always want to portray things as they feel, rather than as they are, and to me, when I was going through this period, it felt overwhelming but exciting,” he says. “It felt difficult; it felt like a big problem, but it felt like a quest. It felt like an adventure in the way that I think the movie feels.”

I give Problemista 4.5 stars. It’s a wacky and often hilarious look at one man’s journey to survive NYC and the U.S. immigration system simultaneously. So grab a friend and support new, unique filmmakers like Julio Torres by showing up to see their movies in the theaters. That is the only way we will get Hollywood to make more intelligent films like this instead of another chapter of a worn-out franchise.


Directed by: Julio Torres

Written by: Julio Torres

Selig Rating: 4.5 Stars

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 min

Comedy / Fantasy

Theatrical Wide Release: March 22nd

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Julio Torres, RZA, Greta Lee, Catalina Saavendra, and Narrated by Isabella Rossellini


The Selig Rating Scale:

5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.

4 Stars – Good movie/show

3 Stars – OK movie/show

2 Stars – Well, there was nothing else…

1 Star – Total waste of time.

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