The Contestant is a strange film, insofar as it’s hard to really pinpoint what the darn thing is about. It’s easy enough to write a lightweight blurb (though the one I read in the 10th Spanish Film Festival 2007 guide was incorrect), it’s just hard to say what point the film is making. Here I go with the quick description: Martin is the biggest game show winner in history – but for all his success he has very little in the way of actual physical cash. After a series of financial decisions based on his ‘invisible’ wealth he begins to lose faith in the entire capitalist system.
In many ways The Contestant is similar to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. The film consists almost entirely of montages – multiple scenes running concurrently with a voiceover tying them together. This is a technique often use to pass time in a film (and thanks to Team America: World Police, they’ll never be taken too seriously), but can also be used at the beginning of a film to set the scene. The problem with The Contestant is that it never shifts gear. An hour into the film I was still waiting for it to start. We never get a chance to truly understand Martin or his aspirations, we don’t even see him win the contest other than in a montage featuring numerous postproduction effects. We don’t really understand what sort of relationship he has with his girlfriend Laura nor have an emotional connection to either of them. This is where it is entirely different to The Fountain. Whilst it’s hard to explain exactly what Aronofsky’s film is about, the emotional core of the story is very strong. With The Contestant I could quite easily explain what happens, yet I have no idea what I’m supposed to be feeling. There are some humorous moments courtesy of Leonardo Sbaraglia when Martin decides to free himself from the financial tyranny of democracy, but I couldn’t feel anything for him.
The resolution feels tacked-on, as if writer/director Rodrigo Cortés didn’t know how to end it, and the film approaches Fight Club‘s anti-capitalist stance yet doesn’t have the fascinating characters to back it up. The whole thing comes across as an ultra-stylised, impeccably edited yet soulless video clip.Rating: