‘Out of Sync’ hides its best moments out of sight

In TIFF by Cadeem Lalor

The film is the latest from Spanish director Juanjo Gimenez, whose filmography includes documentaries and short films (the idea for this film began as a short story idea). “Out of Sync” stars Marta Nieto in the lead role of an unnamed sound designer, who has to leave work after her hearing becomes out of sync. The condition starts with simple sounds, such as claps, being out of sync. Then it grows to the point where the protagonist can sit at a table and hear the conversation of the table’s previous occupants.

While the plot emphasized the supernatural or sci-fi elements in this film, those elements take some time to fully emerge. We see the simple ‘out-of-sync’ moments first, almost reminiscent of The Sound of Metal, which are effective because we all, at some level, fear losing our senses. With the film’s sound editing, we experience the disorientation as the protagonist does: we see a kettle boiling over before we can hear it. Normally, a scene like that would leave us instinctively pausing to let the film buffer. Instead, we know that this lack of cohesion is what we are supposed to feel and we are powerless against it.

“Out of Sync” is entirely in Spanish and that adds to the disorientation. You can’t read lips, and the spoken word isn’t enough for you to understand what is being said.

Discussing the characterization and personality of the protagonist, she appears rather uncharismatic and unlikable. In one scene, she betrays a deal she had with her ex to move out of his apartment at a certain time. The next we find out she’s been avoiding her mother and is only visiting to get something from her. The character seems like an aloof person, who wishes to be isolated away from the people around her. Subsequently, we come to a better understanding of the character’s behavior, where our initial anchoring to her is due to her troubling condition.

The first scene shows the protagonist mixing sounds for a film, and it’s a fascinating look at the process of sound creation. But more importantly,this makes the character’s condition have a greater impact on her life, and the story. With the brief synopsis we get before watching, we know that she’ll lose one of the key tools that helps her to do her job. Although she is not likable to start, we eventually begin to empathize with her as she begins to process sounds late.

It is always a delicate balancing act with genre-blending films. In this case “Out of Sync ” lulls you in with a more auteur aesthetic and feel with the addition of fantastical elements. The transition was handled well where the first scene showing the supernatural was a highlight, even though the film takes a while to get there. The supernatural doesn’t come in until much later in the film. Although I can still praise some of the earlier scenes, I couldn’t help but feel as though they could have been trimmed.

However, the film’s third act left a better impression. There is a development that helps to build the character to be more sympathetic, giving her a clear goal that moves the story forward. This provides us, the viewers, a mystery that we get to unravel along with her. Gimenez further conveys the frustration and danger that comes with not hearing the world as we see it by displaying multiple scenes featuring sounds of vehicles, cutlery, and voices approaching seconds after we’ve seen their source. We were simply carried along throughout the character’s daily struggle as though we were also experiencing it.

“Out of Sync” shines due to its concept, the third act, and the ending. However, I found that the two-hour runtime could have been slightly condensed or altered to introduce the supernatural earlier. By delaying those elements, the film actually delays one of the stronger and more unique parts of its story. It is the character’s supernatural condition that has stuck with me the most since watching the film and leaves me asking questions.

That withstanding, I wouldn’t place “Out of Sync” among the most memorable or enjoyable films I have seen. However, being a film that thrives on our senses especially hearing and sight, it likely seems the environment you watch impacts your response as an audience. In a dark atmospheric theatre with people around, some of whom are likely longtime fans of Gimenez, “Out of Sync” may then be a memorable experience.