Credit: Film at Lincoln Center
by Zachary Goldkind Film

Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine | Alex Piperno

December 9, 2020

Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine thankfully manages to avoid status quo filmmaking but still feels somehow unfinished.

There seems to be a popular, contemporary aesthetic that utilizes a retreat into narrative alienation, where the sum of static wides and a distanced ennui, enveloped within often allegorical environments, creates a familiar trajectory where emotionality is elicited via the dissonance between the viewer and a film’s would-be poetics. With Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine, director Alex Piperno continues this tradition, orchestrating a not-so-elaborate matrix that seeks to pithily express the conditions of globalism that overwhelm the film’s protagonist. We follow a young crewman, Chico, who finds a door in the bowels of the cruise ship he works upon, leading him to the apartment of a middle-aged woman who invites his presence with a coy, simmering eroticism. The apartment is actually in Montevideo, and this bit of fantastical flourish likewise informs the romance that develops.

The cruise ship is depicted as an indecipherable labyrinth, in contrast to the homey, navigable apartment within which the protagonist finds escape, and this bit of foregrounded grammar quickly establishes the socioeconomic logic of the work: disembodied music that the mostly white guests of the ship enjoy echoes through the industrial substrata of the vessel, reverberations in the ship’s thick pipelines and skeletal stairways. This manner of presenting space becomes the only conduit to the characters on screen, as their psychology remains mostly occluded and this “world” that subsumes them strips them bare of the personal. In other words, the spatial construction is the ideological catalyst for the film’s varying explorations of disenfranchisement and capitalist saturation. It’s a fair, earnest portrait that Piperno composes, but it grows increasingly derivative as its monotony becomes one that encourages a normative mode of “looking.” The camera is a diagnostic element rather than a participant in the crisis, and the further utility of such works, ones that barely use the temporal strata of their images to further articulate themselves, is dubious. 

The pacing similarly becomes cumbersome in the absence of any obvious intent. Arguably, the film’s elliptical nature and its quick cutting further underlines the various abstractions at play: the eventual implosion is inevitable, and time’s elusiveness always oppresses. But such musings fail to take on any evocative quality here: too neatly is the title recalled as a facet of the imagination, a way to survive that sinking ship. To its credit, this spick and span re-presentation succinctly makes its inquiry into such notions of hopelessness without the tired brooding to which similarly-themed films so often subject viewers. But it’s also fair to ask, as one must after so many of these festival titles conclude: Yes, and? We know what capitalist realism looks like, even when blanketed within fantasy trappings as it is here. But there must be something more, something else to imagine, no?

Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2020 — Dispatch 2.