Maniac Miki is an excellent example of film noir. The film’s writer and director, Carla Forte, checks all of the appropriate genre boxes. She gives us Miki (Carlos Antonio León) as an archetypal cynical hero. She incorporates lighting that is more dramatic than a 5-year-old throwing a tantrum in aisle 9, and the high gravity plot subscribes to a very specific existential philosophy. Additionally, Forte chooses to use black and white cinematography. It’s an obvious homage to the original Mickey Mouse Club program, but it’s true purpose feels like an attempt to effectively translate the dark tone of the movie. The blacks seem infinitely abysmal, and the whites feel insipidly grey. There you go: noir filmmaking 101!
With that said, Maniac Miki is ultimately a twisted personification of several cartoon icons…if their lives had gone completely off the rails after reaching the pinnacle of show business success. The film starts off by introducing us to Miki in a moment of existential crisis. Miki is a washed-up actor living life in a perpetual state of anguish. His appearance is always unkept and his behavior is dangerously manic. Forte makes it immediately obvious that this man’s life is not going well. He’s lost his job, he’s broke(n), and he has a cough that he can’t shake. A series of talking head interviews, piecemealed throughout the movie, double down on the motif.
Subsequently, we find Miki living on a boat with his “partner” Mimi (Lola Amores). The confines of the vessel and Miki’s depression seem to be fermenting a healthy dose acrimony between the two of them. However, it quickly becomes obvious that each character brings a certain amount of regret and self-loathing to the relationship that is feeding the discord. It’s a brilliant construct in the film. He’s apparently fed up with her, and she’s apparently fed up with him. But the reality is that they’re really just fed up with themselves and that makes the conservations between them feel like toxic therapy.
The film proceeds to swerve between scenes of a “Where are They Now?” style documentary and scenes of Miki on his boat in various states of misery. This stylistic choice makes the movie feel mercifully episodic. The interstitials give you a chance to decompress before you have to witness another manic rant or heartbreaking moment of self-pity. I don’t mean that to sound derisive, but the movie asks a lot of viewers mentally and emotionally. However, there are dozens of scenes that make that work worth it.
One of these instances happens when Miki writes a letter to his former employer. The letter requests information on the status of a severance package that he feels he’s due. It seems like a moment of clarity for Miki, but guess what?! He writes dueling versions of the letter in a not-so-subtle demonstration of frustration and mania. One version is cordial and professional while the other one is absolutely indignant and profane. It’s a scene that provides concrete evidence that Miki is a man caught in two minds: One where he clings to his Miki persona and another where he knows Miki ceased to exist a long time ago. Forte skillfully spreads the spectre of this epiphany throughout Maniac Miki.
And despite the overarching darkness of Maniac Miki, Forte does give us a few moments of levity. There are clever allusions to the old, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, ditty that some of us might remember from our childhoods. Additionally, Miki and Mimi’s friend, DonalT (Chaz Mena), nails being a total caricature of himself. The exaggerated accent and the flamboyant wardrobe that Mena employs are real scene-stealers. Besides that, there’s even a blind postman named Cartero, (Jose Manuel Dominguez) that makes his deliveries in a rowboat. Don’t tell OSHA…
Clever things like that make the concept of Maniac Miki interesting. The film asks you to investigate the subterfuge of show business. On the surface, big movie studies and production companies provide the masses with multimedia joy and gives aspiring artists avenues of expression. However, Maniac Miki wants you to look past that idyllic whimsy and acknowledge that show business can be a callous endeavor driven purely by consumerism. And where there is consumerism, there's exploitation. Forte powerfully makes Miki and his friends feel like casualties of that exploitation and effectively garners our sympathy. Overall, Maniac Miki feels like earnest art that uses the medium of film in its truest spirit.
For information about Maniac Miki, visit BISTOURY PHYSICAL THEATRE AND FILM.