On paper, Andrea Bussmann’s Fausto sounds like an avant-garde take on a German legend, Goethe’s Faust, that is loosely based on the life of Johann Georg Faust. On screen, however, the Canadian filmmaker’s first solo endeavour is a slow-moving train to nowhere.

Taking place on Mexico’s Oaxacan coast, Fausto is a documentary that ambitiously tries to weave together voiceover narration, imagery, fables, and locals retelling personal encounters with mythical characters from the Faust legend. The film attempts to blend fiction with reality, and while each scene transitions seamlessly into the next, the film’s overall message is unclear.

The legend itself is about how Faust – an alchemist, astrologer and magician during the German Renaissance – was feeling dissatisfied with his life and made a deal with the Devil. As a result, he exchanged his soul for boundless knowledge and material gain. Unfortunately, the film makes few mentions of the Devil or anything that resembles the original Faustian tale.

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Outside of that, the pacing was the biggest problem. For a film that’s a mere 70 minutes, it felt like watching the Titanic – long and tedious. The difference here is, virtually nothing happens on screen. So, there’s a monotonous voiceover narration and a collection of beautiful images, but there’s nothing to really see. It’s all very anticlimactic.

However, despite the film’s shortcomings, Bussmann should be credited for her eye for imagery, as the visual storytelling shines in this production. Fausto is mostly shot in low-lighting that helps the audience zero in on the people on screen and illustrate the more sinister characters. Sometimes there’s too much time spent on certain images that have little to do with the story, which is a small stylistic choice that can be easily overlooked in comparison to everything else.

When this train finally deboards, the million-dollar question looms: What is Bussmann trying to convey through Fausto? Is she simply trying to discuss how urban legends are embedded in the fabric of certain cultures and passed down through generations? Or, based on the original legend, is she calling on us to examine the human condition and what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to win the game called life? Even though the answer is never made clear, the film opens the gateway for the two topics to be discussed and both are worthy of exploration.

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