Julio Torres’ ‘Problemista’ makes for thoughtful, imaginative debut feature film

Mimi Calzada, Life&Arts Desk Editor

Written, directed and starring Julio Torres, “Problemista” follows Alejandro, an aspiring toymaker living in New York City. Originally from El Salvador and out of a job, Alejandro starts working for Elizabeth, played by Tilda Swinton, who he hopes will sign off on his work visa so he can stay in the U.S. long enough to get a job at Hasbro. 

Torres’ feature directorial debut is whimsical and playful but also dark and stressful. Alejandro’s child-like nature contrasts the world around him, leading audiences to root for him instantly. The film does an amazing job of exhibiting the delicate nature of being an immigrant in America trying to make a living while facing the practically impossible maze of applying for and maintaining a work visa. 

The film incorporates unique directorial choices, including portraying Craigslist as a divine entity who entices Alejandro into working one-off gigs and switching up the set production to invoke a dark tone when Alejandro and Elizabeth argue over the phone. These tense moments between Torres and Swinton feel effortlessly believable, with both actors easily embodying their characters. Both actors bring distinctive traits to their characters, including Alejandro’s bouncy and boyish walk and Elizabeth’s compulsive need to argue with everyone she speaks to. 

While the movie easily hits every one of its intended comedic beats, it also feels deeply moving and emotional. Scenes where Alejandro speaks on the phone with his artist mother about his progress will especially strike a chord with viewers. Additionally, a scene where select characters literally disappear from an immigration office as their legal residence in the U.S. expires will make audiences’ hearts drop.

The movie feels nearly perfect, except for a couple of unresolved minor plot points and characters who disappear in the last act of the film. 

Torres hit his feature directorial debut out of the park with a surreal, creative and wildly unique film. “Problemista” will satisfy audiences looking for humor, unique directing and thoughtful commentary on the immigration system in the United States. Audiences who approach this movie with an open mind and an open heart will gain an incalculable amount of insight and introspection. 

4 ½ egg paintings out of 5