Written & Directed by: #ChrisShimojima
Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
Alberto and the Concrete Jungle snapshots the erratic, eccentric but also inspirational lifestyle of digital nomad and photojournalist Alberto Buenaventura (Santoni) who travels all over the world, his destinations decided by nothing more than a whim and a feeling, packing nothing but his camera, laptop and a medical solution for every occasion. This habit of going wherever the mood or wind takes him as led to dinners with Portuguese nobility, drinking games with monks and being painted nude in Tibet, one hell of a bucket list.
Looking to finish his current stint in The Big Apple, Alberto (or Al B) wants nothing more than to catch his flight to Cluj-Napoca and begin writing another chapter in his life/blog. But it seems Al’s “good fortune” is wearing thin. Cornered and blackmailed by a tyrannical social media mogul into working for him, Al faces the prospect of being committed to New York City for a whole year, the mere thought of which causes his itchy feet to become unbearable. Thus, begins a most unique scavenger hunt through a never-ending chain of favours and quid pro quos as Al looks for a way to claim his freedom once more.
Alberto and the Concrete Jungle is something of a rollercoaster, one for the most part we are happy to be on, complete with a nervy initial incline before descending full speed into madness and thrills. Alberto’s frantic lifestyle isn’t just shown, it is felt in almost every moment; from the very first foot chase to the last and all the business in between, Shimojima is a #filmmaker with big, bold ideas, never afraid of switching up styles to suit his narrative and his camera is always there to put us right in the thick of things, allowing us to feel as exhilarated, ecstatic, tired and frustrated as Alberto.
It’s a shame however that the films same basic story loops, twists and turns are too heavily relied on time and time again, eventually no longer holding any sway over its audience. A good portion of the film seems to be stuck spinning its wheels and as more and more of the repetitive story beats continue to bloat the narrative, it means it's something of a slow chug to the end, a sharp contrast from its promising and emphatic beginnings. The loss of focus not only causes one attention to strain, but makes us feel as frustrated with the situation as Alberto might, but not necessarily in the way that was perhaps intended, something not aided by the films overly long runtime either.
Similarly, Alberto’s numerous encounters with the various denizens of this diverse city certainly throw up some interesting personalities for our lead to clash with, but few are truly unique enough to take notice of and after the third or fourth well-worn iteration of such confrontations, these supporting characters sadly become more infuriating than endearing.
But what the film does have in spades is undeniable charm and heart, personified in a stellar lead performance from Santoni that covers the whole spectrum of the human spirit and keeps us with him both in his best moments and his worst. We are never party to the full intricacies which led Al to this life, but we see enough of a certain pain and sadness underneath that comes with it, and his fear of committing to something long term, making for an interesting and for the most part entertaining back and forth with his friendly-ish rival Marian (Voshell)
Charming and utterly chaotic, Alberto and the Concrete Jungle delivers an interesting look at human connections, cultures and differing life perspectives, but can't quite sustain its focus or energy for the entirety of its over-stretched runtime.