‘Maximum Shame’ is a surreal minimalist experimental art-house work a genre fusion of comedy, horror, musical and science fiction employing fetish imagery and a non-traditional cinematic narrative in which its characters are used as chess pieces in an apocalyptic tale about human desperation. It was shot primarily on the location of an abandoned warehouse in London, England on a mere budget of an estimated €9,000 with for the most part a wardrobe of black leather S & M clothing and dental restraints for its cast of characters. Written and directed by Spanish avant-garde underground filmmaker and playwright Carlos Atanes it was nominated for a Best Feature Movie award at the 2010 BUT (B Movie, Underground and Trash) Film Festival, Breda, The Netherlands.
Atanes has built up quite the cult following in underground circles since first appearing on the scene in 1991 with his short film The Marvellous World of the Cucu Bird. He then went on to make twelve more shorts including a documentary. The filmmaker made his first released feature with 2004’s ‘FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions’ that went on to win the Best Feature Film Award at the Athens Panorama of Independent Filmmakers the following year. His body of work also includes unreleased productions. Carlos Atanes remains a fiercely independent filmmaker working outside of the Spanish film industry from where he receives no support shooting his work on video on self-financed miniscule budgets that have forced him to shoot up to just like four weeks of footage over the course of months or even an entire year. Not only does Atanes’ have to finance all of his work but also with little interest from distributors in his native homeland, he is forced to network the worldwide festival circuit to get his films seen. The filmmaker’s style is considered original provocative surrealism that often features the themes of alternative realities, exile, oppression and power. A term to label his work was even coined - "Atanic".
In ‘Maximum Shame’, the world is on the brink of ending. A woman (The Bishop) played by Ana Mayo lying in bed of a night with her lover (The Rook) played by Paco Moreno explains the many numbered variations in a game of chess and the amount of possible alternative universes. When The Bishop falls asleep, The Rook crawls out from under the duvet entering a dimensional limbo existing between reality and fantasy taking the appearance of a dirty and dingy derelict warehouse. Its ruler the cruel and narcissistic dominatrix roller-skating The Queen (Marina Gatell) manipulates its inhabitants into a game of human chess. Becoming trapped there, The Bishop goes looking for her partner. Sounds weird? It very well is. Confused? You very well will be…
The film is very difficult to critique, as it does not strive to appeal to the masses specifically aimed for its core audience in mind a minority demographic with underground filmmaking at its most underground defying to be categorized. It exists outside of the cinematic norm not following its conventions with Carlos Atanes playing with its narrative structure like a puzzle and does not even pay attention to character development, as the focus is situational. It is not graphically violent the writer and director instead creates a freakish Alice in Wonderland philosophical head-trip a mirrored alternative reality of our world that challenges the mind raising questions and never answering them leaving it up to the viewer’s interpretation. All this is encapsulated in a bleak cold atmosphere enhanced by the confined claustrophobia of the squalid setting. The analogy for chess a game of domination and submission fits in with the fetish imagery none of which is at all sexual; instead, the objects used by the cast are given significance by being fetishized as the characters’ obsessions in a very plutonic and grotesque way pertaining to their “maximum shame”.
The dialogue Atanes has written is unique in that it mostly takes the form of monologues and occasionally leads into singing with musical numbers mixing a wide range of influences and peppers the already very strange proceedings with a fair bit of bizarre humour. Shot entirely in the English language with an entirely Spanish cast their English skills vary but the performances all around are suitably off the wall with the stand out for me being Ignasi Vidal as The Knight in a wonderfully over the top hammy turn.
After watching it twice now, I still really do not know how to feel about ‘Maximum Shame’ as it is purely visual art rather than a real narrative a dreamlike mind-fuck of philosophical musings. It is not a question of whether it is good or not as it does not conform to cinematic conventions. Therefore, I will not be giving a rating for this review, as it is hard for me to judge it on such terms. Whether you like the film or not you will ultimately more likely all reach the same conclusion that it is at least a unique work.
You can find out more about Carlos Atanes’ work on his official website and on his Youtube channel. His last feature film ‘Gallino, the Chicken System’ (trailer) was released in 2012 and his latest work his first music video ‘Esa Linna’s Meat Market’ can be seen here…
Dave J. Wilson
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