Name Above Title (AKA Um Fio de Baba Escarlate) opens with a gorgeous tracking shot. We follow a nameless young woman(Joana Ribeiro) through a raucous high end rooftop party. She wobbles in her silver high heels like they hurt, her martini sloshing onto the ground as she struggles to keep hold of her glass. The music is loud, the revelers obviously inebriated, a steady hum of shouted conversations indistinct in the background. It’s a relief to see the woman place her glass on a table, pulling an unused chair away with her. Rather than sit down, she uses the chair to climb over the safety railing, and leap to her death.
As a crowd of bystanders forms, camera phones recording from every angle, Candide kneels by the dying woman’s side. Hearing her indistinct last words, he pulls her in for a tender kiss as she passes away. Assumed to be compassionately obeying a dying woman’s last wish, he becomes a social media sensation, his life a whirlwind of photo shoots, interviews and endorsements.
This initial sequence sets up Name Above Title‘s elegant handle on tone and aesthetics, nimbly melding multiple visual traditions. The aspect ratio, slices of vivid color and carefully calibrated cinematography recall classic giallo. Action sequences of Candide speeding down dark roads or disposing of victims in the inky nighttime ocean recall the rear projection claustrophobia of Poverty Row noir.
This is lavish stuff, usually the territory of big budget music videos or enigmatic fashion films for luxury houses. The undercurrent of everything on screen is ghoulish and beastly, but the film’s approach to depicting these events is one of absolute beauty.
In an unusual decision on behalf of writer/director Carlos Conceição, Name Above Title has almost no dialog. What is audible is murmured and indistinct, muffled under the thump of party music, street sounds and other ambient noise. Hugo Leitão’s score is moody and evocative, leaping from dreamy synth pop to Goblin style prog rock riffs.
Considering the film opens with a Ted Bundy quote, and the killer’s rise to social media fame is partially fueled by his runway model looks, Name Above Title‘s main themes are readily apparent, even without the benefit of the usual forms of exposition. Matthieu Charneau’s performance is nicely nuanced, his handsome face a mask as he strains to mimic the emotions of a human being rather than a cold blooded murderer using his newfound fame to up his body count.
Joana Ribeiro is tasked with playing all of the female victims, each woman distinguished by styling and a carefully calibrated set of mannerisms in their brief screen time. Using the same actress in all of these roles is a smart underline of the film’s ideas. The public fascination with serial killers puts sharp focus on the perpetrators, but forces their victims into an anonymous mass in the background.
Name Above Title is neo giallo in its most experimental, tone poem form, with a lot to read into its stylish silences. Should we be making antiheroes out of human monsters? How do we navigate a digital age where miscommunication and misrepresentation of one’s true self is so easy? Why does the bright light of media adoration so often turn into an equivalently vitriolic crash?
A back half swerve into full on surrealism feels like too much excess, dragging an arresting experiment into something that feels like an overlong digression. The visual decadence is unable to cover for a heavy handed last act metaphor that sledgehammers the rest of the film’s lingering questions to pieces.
While Name Above Title’s challenging of traditional structure and loose approach to realism won’t be to everyone’s taste, at a barely feature length 59 minutes, it never really has the chance to overstay its welcome. This is undoubtably one of the most aesthetically pleasing films on the 2021 Nightstream Festival program, and fans of artsploitation and the more ambitious side of genre will something to appreciate in its exploration of how every human experience becomes performance art for content’s sake in a digital age, be it radical empathy or violent execution.
Wicked Rating: 6/10
Director: Carlos Conceição
Writer: Carlos Conceição
Starring: Matthieu Charneau, Joana Ribeiro
Release: September 25, 2021
Production Company: Mirabilis
Runtime: 59 minutes