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- Directed by Alex Merkin -

This is a short thriller about a man’s decline after losing everything important to him.

In an American small-town arid landscape, a middle-aged man is trying to sell what seems to be his last valuable possession, in order to avoid eviction from the motel room he shares with his depressed wife. Named Habib bin Habib al Fulan, the man has to explain his origins to the shop owners, so he won’t be suspected of illegal activity: he is a Palestinian born in El Salvador. As he doesn’t manage to get a fair price, he returns to the desolate hotel room, where the woman seems to be sleeping. Subdued by his desperate situation, he goes back to settle for a lower price. From here on, the apparent drama plot turns into a thriller. The shop owner found a buyer for the guitar, who will pay a good price. He also offers the needy man a job. Impressed by this act of kindness, Habib starts talking about the events of the past days. He and his wife had violent fights, the last of them ending with him pushing her face into the pillow until she stopped kicking. He says he is convinced she’s alive and just pretending, but the shop personnel alerts the authorities quietly, while Habib is absorbed in his own tale telling.

Though it’s based on dialogue and atmospheric flashback, the film is suspenseful. This effect is acquired through the highly - charged performance of the protagonist and the stylistic choices made by the director. The blend of cinematic techniques helps us merge into the confused inner state of the main character. The low angle circle shot of his frowning sweaty face is definitory: he is a lost man wandering what to do. Outdoor, he is a lonely man in a deserted scenery, indoor we get to see many close shots of his agonizing expression.

The actor’s performance is impressive, his eyes have a constant look of defeat and sadness. Also, he keeps the audience focused while telling his long confession. The sound design supports his acting, indicating turmoil, fear or nostalgia, as well as the use of  zoom-in helps underline his moods.

The flashbacks moments stand out due to their different visual style, resembling the Terrence Malick’s depictions of decaying love affairs. The idyllic opening and ending scenes suggest the turning of this story into an idealized state, a memory.

We recommend “This modern man is beat”  as a noteworthy cinematic experience for the audiences and we appreciate its high-quality technical execution, as well as the aesthetic choices and challenging script.

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