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El Ganzo’ has confusing storyline highlighted by first-rate acting


El Ganzo is an actual hotel in Mexico, and the title of the latest feature film by director Steve Balderson. A quirky/skewed version of a road movie (in keeping with Balderson’s reputation as a filmmaker of eccentrically stylized productions), it introduces us to a strange White American tourist (Susan Traylor) who walks away from a traffic accident, wanders absent mindedly through the sweltering heat, then checks into the self-titled hotel on the tip of Baja, California without any luggage.

Although “Lizzy’s” name is confirmed by the reservation awaiting her at this establishment, she appears to be a genuine amnesic as she crosses paths with a gay African-American photojournalist named Guy (Anslem Richardson), on a journey for what he hopes will be an artistic breakthrough.

Lizzy’s trance, like demeanor may in fact be a façade as she introduces herself as a travel writer, but seems to have no clue about her past or why she is in Mexico. Guy, too, may have a hidden agenda, as Lizzy discovers a promotional brochure with his photo prominently identified as “Hugo Thompson.” All this deception doesn’t prevent the two from becoming intimate with each other, as the film seems to make a statement about the fallacy and idiocy of labels and compartmentalization. The scenes where Guy/Hugo argues long distance over the phone with his estranged boyfriend are among the most lucid throughout the movie.

This pair seems to have arrived during the tourist off-season, as the sole occupants of a resort who’s isolated and remote landscape allow for an intense character examination showcasing the skills of the two leads.

The natural charisma of this unlikely coupling sells the premise of two forlorn souls finding sustenance via the connection of an improbable pairing seem at least possible, and maybe plausible, given the circumstances of the scenario.

Traylor (whose resume includes Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” and Michael Mann’s “Heat”), and Richardson (featured in the television dramas “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Law and Order”) are seasoned, veteran actors able to flex their acting “chops” in a variety of shades ranging from blatant to subtle, giving the film its most compelling feature. The screenplay, a collaboration between Balderson, Richardson, and Traylor provides a stagnate backdrop for the thespians to display their wares, while ultimately remaining a meandering, vague storyline with no satisfying resolution.

In perhaps a fitting coda, the real Hotel El Ganzo was destroyed by Hurricane Odile in September 2014 after film production was completed. Anslem Richardson, a native New Yorker of Trinidadian descent, will appear next in the independent film “Warrior Road,” and the sci-fi drama “After We Leave” (more information maybe found on IMDb).

Steve Balderson himself is an interesting character, a CalArts graduate who has spent the last two decades crafting films in his native Kansas away from the chaos of tinsel town (he has recently moved back to Southern California within the past year). The future of “El Ganzo,” like its plot, is open ended, with the possibility of a direct to video release yet to come. Follow this progress and become acquainted with his other films at his website