Movie Reviews
Problemista Tilda Swinton

SXSW 2023: Problemista Highlights The Problems Of Immigration

SYNOPSIS: Alejandro (Torres) is an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador, struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in New York City. As time on his work visa runs out, a job assisting an erratic art-world outcast (Swinton) becomes his only hope to stay in the country and realize his dream. From writer/director Julio Torres comes a surreal adventure through the equally treacherous worlds of New York City and the U.S. Immigration system.

Problemista is an acquired taste. You have to be ready to enter into the surreal when watching this movie. After you get your mind right and get ready to ingest you’ll find a psychedelic delicacy of cinema. There’s a glaring criticism and observation of the American Immigration system, banking, and FileMaker Pro. Problemista doesn’t stop there as it also finds time to take potshots at the American banking system and more. Our protagonist, Alejandro, works at a company that cryogenically freezes individuals in hopes that they can awaken in the future. Alejandro specifically maintains the cryogenic system for Bobby Asencio (RZA), the husband of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). Alejandro’s real dream is to become a toymaker working for toy manufacturer Hasbro. Alejandro’s quirkiness is obvious upon first site of his toy designs including a


Probelmista Director Julio Torres

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Writer/Director Julio Torres stars in the movie as Alejandro, who is an immigrant in the U.S. Did I mention that this movie is a comedy? The laughs come fast and hard as we first meet the quirky Alejandro who nails it with physical humor. There’s something about the timing and delivery in Torres’ performance that just forces you to chuckle. Whether it’s Alejandro’s laid back chill attitude, his bouncy walk, or his clean hairstyle with obtuse 1 hair standing out like Alfalfa, there’s a lot to absorb in this character. Tilda Swinton plays Elizabeth, the wife of Bobby Ascencio (RZA), and is definitely not a Karen. 

Torres finds a unique way to highlight sensitive topics but tiptoes around being too offensive to anyone who may be sensitive to this sort of criticism. Tilda Swinton absolutely overshadows everyone as Elizabeth and delivers yet another outstanding performance.  Elizabeth is an eccentric woman who has the ability to always get what she wants. Her secret? In order to get what you need from others you have to make yourself a problem for them. That persistence will force them to kowtow to her asks. It’s an incredible thing to watch and may trigger some viewers. The story can be eye-opening to observe, and Torres helps share the perception of a white woman who can push others to do what she wants just by badgering them incessantly.

Problemista makes a habit of pointing out the absurdity of various systems in the U.S. There’s a commentary on immigration but the movie also points out the predatory practices of large banks. I now know I am not the only person who, in the past, did everything in my power to get a bank employee to admit the predatory practices of some banks. There’s a moment when Alejandro realizes his bank account has been overdrawn and is in the negative by several hundred dollars due to a bank overdraft fee. If you try to buy a $7.00 sandwich but only have $6.99 in your account, the transaction will approve but you will be charged $35 as a penalty for over-drafting an account. rather than declining the transaction, some banks will do this to make money by charging an outrageous penalty fee putting cash-strapped individuals in a precarious situation.


Problemista Premiere at SXSW

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Problemista can be overindulgent in absurdity. There are times when the movie attempts to be visually artistic for the sake of being artistic but stands out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the visuals. There’s a moment where Alejandro illustrates the need for money to apply for a work visa without being able to legally work to earn the money to pay for a work visa. This is shown as Alejandro climbs through the equivalent of a rat maze turned Tetris block. Scenes like this can be disruptive to the immersion of the story in an attempt of being expressive. There are other scenes that disrupt the flow of the movie like Alejandro’s forays into Craigslist work. These scenes are here to shock non-immigrants into awareness of what life is like in America for immigrants but the shock isn’t as serving as intended.

The casting in Problemista is borderline absurd but in that, you find the humor in the seriousness of the topic. most will agree that RZA and Larry Owens’ casting makes no sense. But the absurdity is a reflection and commentary on the absurdity of things found in the United States. RZA’s presence in the movie is hilarious and I can’t help but enjoy every moment he’s on screen. I feel as though RZA could have had more screen time and could have done more to adjust his performance to sound more aristocratic. The chemistry between RZA and Tilda, in their few scenes together, is carried by Swinton being a friggin chameleon and adjusting her character of Elizabeth to accommodate Bobby.


Fans of Julio Torres will love Prolemista. Fans of quirky comedy and dry humor will love Problemista. Heck, fans of Wes Anderson movies will find a visual delight in Problemista. Viewers who don’t like any of these things will have a hard time with this movie. I find the absurdity hilarious and a great first outing for Torres. Tilda Swinton provides an audacious performance as Elizabeth and will live rent-free in my brain as this character for some time. I will recommend this film to many, but not all.

Problemista Highlights The Problems Of Immigration
  • Acting - 6/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 6/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 8/10
  • Watchability - 7/10
  • Rewatchability - 8/10
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