The Feverish Journey of Tomas Gomez Bustillo’s Exotica

It’s difficult for the United States to understand exactly what its identity is these days. While this is not a purely American dilemma, it seems to consume our daily lives in a way that few other locations feel and discuss so openly. It’s the type of concept which director/writer Tomas Gomez Bustillo is presenting in his upcoming film Exotica. Lauded for the film Jose starring Pepe Serna (Scarface, American Me, Silverado), the award-winning Flight, and others; Tomas presents his family’s own Latin American roots that are intertwined with the US in Exotica. Through the film’s main character Manuel, we witness the very timely tale of a man seeking to find the essence of who he truly is within a world where he may not belong. Manuel and his journey spotlights the propensity we all have to evolve into that which we abhor the most. Exotica blurs the lines between reality and dark fantasy by utilizing the toxic tantalization of fear.

When a mysterious figure from the past shows up at a foreign trade convention, Peruvian born/American educated businessman Manuel struggles to keep his traumatic past separate from his present. As he tries to secure a merger for his company and prove to his increasingly doubtful wife that he is able to provide for their son, the elegant “Exotica” themed party spirals wildly out of control and increasingly intertwined with the violent, obscure events that took place during his childhood. The shocking occurrence at his father’s rubber plantation deep in the Peruvian Amazon may reveal more about Manuel than he cares to recognize.

Manuel is much more than a character in the film. He is the viewer’s proxy for the events in that we perceive his reality much more than simply witness it. It’s because of his insecurity, anxiety, and perhaps other untold forces (no spoilers here) that the juxtaposition of the Peruvian rainforest (in his past) and a luxurious New England hotel meld together. Equally, Manuel and his father become less and less delineated in actions and character. Alcohol, music, and the fascination with the so-called savage (“Exotica” was used in the 1950s to reference a musical genre popular in Postwar suburban America that mashed together everything which sounded foreign and exotic, fusing it with jazz and swing) combine to turn a grotesque event filled with wealthy, educated, and instinctively repressed elites into an actual jungle. The fancy hotel party setting is stripped away, as are the layers of the attendees’ “civility”, revealing their greed, lust, and desire for domination.

While there are underlying examples of the social class prejudices in the film, this is a peripheral happenstance. Bustillo wrote the film as a cathartic experiment of self-discovery. He reveals, “My Peruvian great grandfather grew up at his father’s rubber plantation, surrounded by the enormous wealth that this business generated as well as the backbone on which it was built: slavery-like conditions of the exploited indigenous workforce. Somewhere in my family’s silenced and prohibited conversations is the story of how Manuel, my great grandfather, was suddenly and mysteriously sent off to the United States to study when he was young. Something terrible must have happened and he must have seen it. Was the young Manuel a witness to the greed and savagery? Was he somehow complicit in it? Nobody has ever been able to tell me. So now I’ve had to imagine it.” In the same way that Tomas Gomez Bustillo is contemplating who he is and who he will be as an artist, much of the world seems to be examining its own cultural and national sense of identity. Through the vehicle of film in Exotica, Tomas asks us to question if it’s our nature or nurture that will claim our souls as individuals and countries. At the very least, Exotica promises to be provocative personally and collectively.

Written by Kelly King

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