Roberto Doveris’ Proyecto Fantasma (wide-released and referred to here further as Phantom Project) is something of an oddity, blending meandering slice-of-life drama with a half-baked but touching ghost story.
Pablo (Juan Cano) is an aspiring gay actor in Santiago, Chile, who finds himself suddenly alone after his roommate abandons him and his YouTuber boyfriend dumps him. As with many performers, the art doesn’t exactly pay the bills, so he takes up participating in clinical trials to make ends meet. To make things more complicated, a strange presence seems to haunt him in his most solitary hours.
The film runs about 90 minutes, and over the course of that time, it flutters in and out of several ongoing storylines and encounters pertaining to the Chilean artist subculture and Pablo’s place within it. Frankly, I found it somewhat difficult to follow. The most interesting element of the piece is Pablo’s interaction with the ghost in his home, which takes on an interesting and clever visual form when shown to the audience. The ghost acts largely as a metaphorical device, but it’s also the most interesting plot thread and feels like it could’ve been utilized more directly as a part of the story.
By and large, Doveris is concerned with the low-key everyday lives of his eclectic cast of characters, but few of them do anything particularly interesting. They have wine; they dish on relationships and the frustrations of millennial artists trying to make it in the world. There are sequences and ideas that stand out; Pablo’s relationship with his ex is complicated, sad and feels like a thoroughly modern depiction of artistic dissonance, for instance. But it all blends together in a soup of sequences, moments and characters who don’t have much direction to their stories. Doveris captures a small community in substantial detail, but it comes at the expense of the core story moving with any dramatic weight.
That sounds pretty harsh and it isn’t meant to be. Project isn’t bad, and although it didn’t work narratively for me, it was still nice to see an unapologetically straightforward depiction of a diverse artistic community. The most interesting ongoing subplot (the ghost) doesn’t feel like it resolves with much excitement, but it’s still the most interesting element of the story. Like most ghost stories, it works as a symbol of Pablo’s longing for his ex-boyfriend and the difficulties faced by a young gay man trying to find love again. The sex sequence is mentioned in a lot of reactions to the film, with good reason: It’s a tender and touching depiction of homoeroticism that speaks to the core of the character still not seen frequently in cinema.
Truthfully, Project is a film aiming to capture a specific vibe among its audience. I could appreciate what it was attempting to achieve, but I had trouble connecting with it, and it did not seem terribly concerned with putting its characters into a plot structure that demanded emotional investment. I guess that’s an elaborate way of saying “It didn’t work for me,” but given Cano’s performance as Pablo and the film’s focus on the lives and travails of a young gay man trying to make it in his chosen world, I hope it works better for someone else.