Given its world premier at Berlinale’s Forum, Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine is an ambitious and thoughtful debut feature from Uruguayan director Alex Piperno. Piperno has a reputation for attributing his short films very long enigmatic names and his first full length feature is no exception. A film large in scope and steeped in metaphors, reinforced by striking visuals, Piperno draws on his past experiences travelling from Uruguay to Argentina by boat. The film aligns two plots alongside each other, with a young sailor (Daniel Quiroga) aboard a cruise ship near Patagonia discovering a mysterious hidden door to an apartment in Montevideo. Alongside the sailor, we see a group of Asian farmers discover a strange abandoned concrete shed in a valley that they believe to exhibit supernatural aura and supernatural powers.
Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine and the discovery recalls a similar strange concept seen in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999), a seemingly ordinary space with a mystery doorway or gateway to somewhere totally geographically different. Whilst not taking us directly into the head of a celebrity or any other human being, we are transported from the sea to a bourgeois apartment somewhere in Montevideo which belongs to a young woman, played by screenwriter and actress Inés Bortagaray. Though this appears to offer the sailor a sense of calm and tranquility he apparently desires, explanations are missing for both the other characters aboard the ship and the audience. This clear willingness to abandon a more linear and succinct explanation works within the constructs of the ambiguous plot, adding to an already established air of mystery. The sailor doesn’t seem all too perplexed by his discovery, more interested in exploring until he meets the apartment owner, which is interestingly set up to shift perception of the sailor away from a pervert or voyeur. The young apartment owner who finds this lost sailor exploring her personal space. Whilst she is curious, she is also fearless and this removes an unwanted tension from the scenes.
Furthering the concerted efforts to provide a profoundly engaging experience, Piperno takes us on another turn, with a group of Asian famers in the Philippines finding a strange and out of place concrete shed in a local valley. These farmers begin to fear the shed is the work of evil spirits; they consult their village elders for advice, leading to several ritualistic practices taking place. However, not all of the farmers are convinced, with a skeptical farmer (Noli Tobol) less than impressed all work has stopped; he becomes determined to get inside the shed and unravel the shed’s mysteries. Later discovering the hut coincidentally leads to the cruise ship, a semi-biographical reference to Piperno’s life, he explained in prior interviews relates to traveling to study in Buenos Aires from Montevideo by boat. Unfortunately, the lack of character development and banal dialogue can sometimes detract from the visuals and interesting plot, a lack of understanding as to why so many diverse areas and peoples are linked holds the film back.
Geographical links and connections are still formed, a metaphorical representation of physical journeys and encounters by unconnected places far away, Window Boy refuses to provide any explanations and allows this ambiguity of the situation to take centre stage. Though Piperno has worked on this script and screenplay for some time, the film never fully adheres to one genre, which contributes to the lack of rhythm or linear consistency seen during the film. The search for overt explanations and concise understandings of the plot in its entirety may perhaps lead to a sense of disappointment, but if you allow yourself to go for the ride, there is an interesting debut on offer that features many poetic and poignant visual compositions. Though the film continues to offer several subtle allegories for class critiques surrounding the cruise ship and the village near the valley, this is not explored clearly in the 110 minute run time. Discerning between the engaging visuals and the flat characters and lack of their development can translate into a frustrating experience, but perhaps this unwillingness to explain or expand on character and plot actually aids broader themes of cultural generalisation. A decent debut which would have benefited from a longer runtime to fully flesh out several characters or situations leaves Window Boy feeling a little underwhelming but still visually stimulating enough to resonate aesthetically with audiences.