Tribeca 2016 Review: Icaros: A Vision

This review is part of The Moviegoer's coverage of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

One can appreciate "Icaros: A Vision" for what it attempts rather than what it accomplishes. Based on the experiences of co-directors Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi, the film follows the journey of an American woman, Angelina, who visits a retreat in the Peruvian Amazon to explore the healing effects of ayahuasca and cure her illness. There, she connects with a shaman who is slowly losing his eyesight and tries to help him. Predictably, the film relies heavily on non-narrative techniques to tell its story, but they leave much to be desired in terms of their novelty and visual flavor.

Films that test the viewer's endurance must earn their protracted pacing with strong storytelling elements, like a provocative thesis, cultural atmospherics, or visual motifs that reign in its disparate parts. Drug use is a topic ripe for visualization (albeit an obvious subject matter), and several scenes attempt to illustrate the experience. A character steps out of an elevator and into the jungle; in another, intricate folds emerge from pink slime as footage of a brain in a blender is reversed. Flashes of MRI scans, flickering television screens, and a voiceover describing the ambient sounds of the forest suggest radical changes perception, but they explore these changes cursorily and never commit to them.

It is usually better to execute a simple idea well rather than to do an elaborate one poorly, and often artists must choose between compromising an idea and sacrificing a work's overall quality. A dream sequence in which the protagonist is chased by a CGI panther in the desert would have been better left in the cutting room, since the quality is so jarring it makes suspending disbelief difficult. Furthermore, the unambiguously symbolic imagery feels starkly out of place in a narrative that mostly relies on atmosphere to communicate. One expects the directors to have noticed this hitch in an otherwise competent film and found a way around it, but that was not the case. The most one can do in such cases is recognize the intention behind them and say, Well, they tried!

While its highbrow thematic aspirations are clear, "Icaros" takes fewer creative risks than a conventional film with a strong narrative. One gets the impression that the tropical setting, cryptic dialogue, and psychedelic drugs are guided less by a groundbreaking worldview than by a superficial thread of surrealism. Like features on a roughly hewn sculpture, the film's striking images provide moments of promise in a plot that leaves little room for tonal variation and is otherwise forgettable. Despite taking itself so seriously, the film is unable to create that sense of mystery that allows one to contemplate the world outside shamanic retreats.