Out of Sync, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Juanjo Giménez.
Starring Marta Nieto, Miki Esparbé, Fran Lareu, Luisa Merelas, Cris Iglesias, Julius Cotter, Iria Parada, and Francisco Reyes.
A sound designer finds refuge from broken relationships with her ex, her colleagues, and her mother in the studio, where she can spend hours recording Foley and wild tracks, editing and mixing. But is her brain starting to slip out of sync?
The second feature from filmmaker Juanjo Giménez – an Oscar nominee for his 2016 short Timecode – comes two decades after his debut, Tilt, and confirms Giménez to be a director of considerable skill and inventiveness. Though not every aspect of his genre-agnostic something-drama Out of Sync quite coalesces, the ambitious swing should go down a treat with adventurous audiences.
A woman known simply as “C” (Marta Nieto) works as a sound mixer and Foley artist at a post-production facility, though her lives both professional and personal are thrown for a loop when her hearing begins lagging behind her sight, causing her to be quite literally out of sync.
As C tries to make sense of her predicament – namely, whether it’s a neurological condition or something more sinister – she finds her hearing becoming progressively more de-synced, and consequently struggles to merely exist in a world of sensory confusion.
There’s little getting around the fact that the central metaphor of Giménez’s film is rather on the nose; C’s hearing issues quite tidily mirror her own personal desynchronisation. C’s broken up with her boyfriend, is being kicked out of her flat, has an acrimonious relationship with her difficult mother, all the baggage that comes with a dead father, and there’s the hint of past mental health issues. C’s personal discord is now embodied by the fact that the audio-visual coherence of her waking life is literally splintering apart.
It’s certainly an original idea for a film, and one which Giménez carries to the finish line with enough ingenuity to paper over its missteps. Giménez does a particularly stellar job of conveying just how mentally damaging living with such a condition would be.
Being able to hear her own breathing and heartbeat out-of-step is anxiety-inducing enough to observe as a viewer, though it becomes literally existentially terrifying when C is hit by a car early on, only to hear the engine and following impact moments later.
Perhaps sensing how utterly discomforting this would be for the audience to endure for an entire movie, we don’t always share C’s auditory perspective, but are made party to her experience as it becomes increasingly dire and strange. C frequently uses her hands to clap, like a film’s clapperboard, to mark the widening chasm of time between her sight and hearing.
The lag eventually makes it near-impossible for C to communicate verbally with others, causing her to shut down speaking entirely at one point, only hastening the onset of debilitating depression. But Giménez keeps the precise nature of the phenomenon fluid and fascinating, with C eventually coming to realise that she can hear delayed sounds from spaces where she wasn’t present at the time, using it to her advantage in order to retroactively eavesdrop on intimate conversations.
The rabbit hole goes only deeper as C investigates what’s happening to her, and Giménez keeps the noodle-baking subversions coming thick and fast, to ends both unsettling and occasionally euphoric. A brief moment of joyous levity arrives when C uses the lag to listen to music without the need for headphones, and there’s a genuinely sweet romance with a co-worker, Ivan (Miki Esparbé), that almost dares to steer the film in an altogether different direction.
It is fair to say, though, that the internal mechanics don’t feel water-tight by any means, and there’s a certain amount of rolling with the tide required for audiences to buy into the soupy nature of C’s abilities. This likely won’t break the experience for most, but if you’re hoping for a concrete list of governing rules, you won’t find them.
Even when the plot raises eyebrows, though, Giménez and co-writer Pere Altimira’s script provides keen insights into the art of cinematic sound design. Not unlike the brilliant horror film Berberian Sound Studio, there’s a clear love for the tactile art of sound mixing and Foley work, without which the concept would be a much harder sell to audiences.
And no movie about sound design can really work without smart sound design itself. Out of Sync’s experimental sound mix is inevitably going to be compared to Sound of Metal until the end of time, but on its own merits the protagonist’s sync issues are edited to bewildering and occasionally funny effect. When C’s meeting a group of people, for instance, the delay is pronounced enough that the voice of a woman C previously spoke to is layered over the face of the man she’s currently talking to.
C’s issues aren’t just limited to synchonisation, though; in the most Sound of Metal-esque flourish, her hearing is sometimes afflicted by an unpleasant, tinny reverb, which audiences will be grateful is only occasionally replicated for the audience. Overall the dynamic sound mix deserves to be heard on a good speaker setup or a nice pair of headphones, though just don’t use it to test out your sound system’s latency.
Beyond its intriguing mystery and technical nous, there’s also a remarkable performance from Marta Nieto to behold. She does a terrific job with a highly challenging role that makes incredibly unusual demands of an actor, effectively conveying C’s increasing upset and frustration at her sensory disharmony.
If there’s any major flaw, it’s surely that Giménez’s film feels a little over-extended; much of the third act is spent investigating a prominent subplot pertaining to C’s family which, honestly, isn’t nearly as interesting as the moment-to-moment visceral experience of C’s ordeal. Despite an amusing-yet-predictable climactic reveal, the final dramatic stretch very nearly fizzles out entirely.
Though its conceptual heavy-handedness and slippery internal logic threaten to derail, Out of Sync’s creative execution, innovative sound design, and strong lead performance make it (mostly) work.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.