Even though we live in ridiculously political times, few filmmakers have the guts to comment on the decline of civilization as blatantly and distinctly as the Taub Brothers (Leandro and Jonathan) do in their film EXTERNO. It’s a daring, clever, passionate, and scalding work about the frailties of man, the destruction of our planet, and the idea that everything comes with a price and a negotiable one at that. That may be true for commodities, and perhaps even souls, but EXTERNO showcases such transactions as fool’s bargains. In a deft 83 minutes, the film indicts the almighty buck and the devils we know and have yet to dance with who treat everything as if it comes with a sales tag. It’s a clever and searing film that recalls everything from THE BIG SHORT to David Lynch’s work to the films of the French New Wave.
The Taub Brothers have directed a film that, in many ways, defies categorization. The story has little real plot, there are only a handful of characters, and the film cheekily employs artsy-fartsy tropes like title cards, metaphors, and representational imagery that might make Terrence Malick blush. (Okay, probably not.) But EXTERNO is a film that has a strong POV, and the brothers incorporate unconventional means to draw attention to their concern for man and the planet.
Screenwriter Leandro also plays Joseph, the main character in the piece, and his portrayal is as potent as his writing and the direction he did with his brother. Joseph is a businessman, lean and precise, going about his work with a long, pointy beard and full, Eurotrash hair. That head of his is also filled with evil thoughts. Joseph wants to accumulate power and money and with minimal investment and he inundates his prey through strategizing, cajoling, bullying, and playing upon one’s lesser angels. Joseph loves the sound of his own voice and is convinced that his way is the only way. He seems all-knowing, explaining how there are no real powers like China or the UK or America, but only just a series of strings to be pulled, all leading to him.
So, who is this string-puller? Lucifer, the head of the Illuminati (is there such a thing?), the sins of man? In some ways, it could be any or all of them, but no matter, the man knows how to play upon dark truths and ugly instincts. He relentlessly ruminates on power, seeming to enjoy walking around scenes of decay and dilapidation that he may have caused in his quest for power.
It’s both horrifying and almost humorous how Joseph breaks down finance, the stock market, and how political back-scratching works. In some ways, his dialogue could almost be a primer on how to destroy governments, the environment, and man’s will. Taub plays up his natural accent too, at times suggesting a charming Bond villain, similarly bent on world domination.
The Taub Brother’s film shows a mostly bereft world, albeit one with pockets of hope. There are numerous shots of majestic trees and various landscapes that suggest that nature is still hanging in there despite civilization’s best efforts to eradicate it. And the film gives Joseph a formidable sparring partner in a character known in the credits simply as She. She (Elisabeth Ehrlich) could be Mother Nature, or perhaps an archangel, maybe even God herself. Joseph likes to argue with her and even toss her about some, but she’s a strong foe. She persists and constantly defies him, giving it back to him as well, even reveling in her substantial powers. Ehrlich too makes her metaphorical character into something recognizably human. (At times, the two suggest they’re each others ex’s, still working through the disintegration of their partnership.)
EXTERNO is currently riding the festival circuit to great acclaim, and with any hope, the Taub’s film will show up at the Chicago International Film Festival this autumn. Wherever it’s showing, it is a film for those who like their movies thought-provoking and more arthouse than IMAX. It will push buttons, for certain, providing plenty to think about and discuss. The movie is a sly wake-up call about man’s malfeasance, a veritable wake-up call to do something before we become mere rubble for Joseph to traipse through.