In the newest trailer for the surreal comedy Problemista, Julio Torres battles bureaucracy, an endless office staircase, and the concept of time itself.
Problemista, Torres’ debut film, follows El Salvadoran immigrant Alejandro (Torres), who travels to New York City to become a toy designer. But in addition to coming up with a sellable design, Alejandro has to earn enough rent to stay in the city and maintain his work visa to stay in the country.
“Here, it’s like the government flips an hourglass,” he explains to his mother over the phone. “And grain by grain you run out of time before you…” The call is abruptly disconnected as his phone runs out of minutes.
In order to avoid getting deported, Alejandro secures a patron, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), an eccentric has-been art critic. Looking to remake her image, Elizabeth hires Alejandro to help put on a gallery showing of her late husband’s artworks. In the process, she becomes an unconventional and seemingly self-involved mentor to the budding toy maker.
For years the film was legally impossible to screen in the absence of its director, due to the Stones’ own misgivings.
From there, we see a montage of Alejandro’s struggles across the streets of New York, culminating in a negative bank balance on an ATM. The trailer ends with Alejandro summing up his frustration in a simple outburst—a kind of prayer—over the phone, “Just get me to zero.”
In addition to Torres and Swinton, the film stars RZA, Catalina Saavedra, Greta Lee, James Scully, and Isabella Rossellini providing narration.
While Problemista is Torres’ first film, it is far from his first foray behind the camera. He co-created the HBO series Los Espookys along with Fred Armisen and Ana Fabrega. The comedy follows a group of queer friends as they stage elaborate spooky hoaxes for wealthy clients. Through its brand of surreal humor, the show managed to parody aspects of wealth, power, and everyday life.
“I feel like the seeds of all of the collective way that we feel now definitely predate COVID,” Torres previously told INTO. “The Trump years were in full swing when we were writing the first season. And the show has a universality to it and a timelessness that makes it both very vague and very specific, I think in a way that that really works to its benefit.”
Problemista premieres in theaters on August 4.