Act in Question, The: Tale of Argentinean Magician

A flashy, often dizzying style marks The Act in Question, the tragic saga of the rise and fall of Miguel Quiroga, the famous Argentinean magician.

The strikingly arty treatment of the material, which is more illustrative than dramatic, makes the picture a natural entry for film fests and arthouse audiences.

Defying linear development or coherent storytelling, The Act in Question is structured as a disjointed, surrealistic travelogue. Using narration, and jumping back and forth between past and present, tale recounts Quiroga’s poor childhood and his addictive habit of stealing books and reading them, cover to cover, in all-night sessions.

When Quiroga accidentally finds in an old bookstore an obscure book of magic and occult, it literally changes his life. He discovers a secret formula for an incredible vanishing act that entails both objects and human beings. The rest of the story is devoted to the magician’s rise to celebrity and his world-wide tours, including a performance that involves the disappearance of the Eiffel Tower.

Far stronger in style than substance, ambitious pic has possibly larger themes on its mind, such as the neurotic psyche of artists and their fear of losing their special skills. Indeed, among the film’s most powerful episodes is a surrealistic nightmare, in which Quiroga dreams that his secretive book is stolen from him and is reprinted in mass production.

Using the circus as main locale–and metaphor–pic borrows heavily from Fellini, specifically 81/2 and The Clowns. But as impressive as Agresti’s cinematic pyrotechnics are, they often overwhelm the thematic concerns and preclude emotional involvement in the potentially interesting saga.

Still, The Act in Question boasts a terrific expressionist lighting by Nestor Sanz and evocative music by Toshio Nakagawa. Carlos Roffe renders a robust, multi-shaded performance as the egocentric, womanizing and ultimately self-destructive magician.