SXSW brought its own wave of films either made during last year’s lockdown, or based on the feeling of it. Many of them have played it more literal, as if trying to be time capsules. But a movie like “Ayar,” directed by Floyd Russ, feels more liberated than many of its like-minded peers. It answers to the creative restrictions of lockdown with exciting artistic abandon, an invigorating approach to see unfold for a movie that then concerns its very creation.
“Ayar” is part COVID horror story, part family drama, part star vehicle, and part behind-the-scenes experience. In one of its layers, it’s about a woman named Ayar (Ariana Ron Pedrique) who yearns to see her five-year-old daughter Jasmine after many months away. But it’s not safe because of COVID, according to her mother Renata (Vilma Vega). Ayar has been also been removed by focusing on a showbiz career in Las Vegas that mostly lead to a bad relationship with a powerful guy, a life choice that has removed Ayar from her family but also echoes that of her mother’s failed dreams. Now Ayar is stuck at a motel where the woman next door violently coughs, and roots starts to take over the walls of Ayar’s room.
In another layer, “Ayar” focuses on the people around its title character, who have their own stories about how they got to where they are now, now meaning the making of “Ayar.” The script emphasizes this is in different ways—a brief photo slideshow of the actors plays after numerous characters are introduced, a celebration of who they are to match the low-angle camera shots that make them appear grandiose against the aesthetic’s sunny, lens-flare lighting. Later on, “Ayar” then dips into the cast members sharing brief life stories, highlighting the script’s floating ideas about how Ayar and her mother equate their place in immigrant experiences to performing in a role. One of the many questions the film asks: Why not turn your pandemic project into a tapestry of these different lives and vivid faces?
This is a movie in which the collective mindset is to throw everything together and to see what sticks. By design, not everything works, and there are some elements that are touch-and-go that play out like doors to a different screenplay that are opened but not entered (that’s especially the case with its dream-like COVID stuff). Some aesthetic choices are distractingly cheesy, like any moments it presents a “signal” cutting out, and sometimes the included behind-the-scenes feels like it is more adding to the run-time than adding to the story.