Set in the glorious year of 2069, the enriching social-satire Will-o'-the-Wisp begins at the brink of death. At the mourning of an elderly patriarch, a young child is seen idling at his bed. In the minimalist space, only surrounded by hospital decor and a questionable colonialist painting, the feeble man begins to recollect his erotic experiences from his years of youthful revolt. Make no mistake, João Pedro Rodrigues' time-jumping fable is simultaneously witty and sexy. Both a condemnation of the monarchy and a quick-witted farce on the instability of the current climate crisis, Will-o'-the-Wisp is an outlandish fantasy consumed by occasional glimpses of cinematic greatness.
Structurally speaking, the most prevalent issue with Rodrigues' exercise in playful provocation can be attributed to the film's lack of attentiveness. Subplots and minor characters are quickly introduced and disposed of, as the film continuously toys with pseudo-intellectual prose and humorous sight-gags. The narrative is erratic, almost hap-hazardous in its gradual progression of set-pieces. The film's central gambit is reliant on the lore and storytelling of old folktales — mimicking the structure of these aforementioned stories whilst paying homage to fantasy classics from yesteryear. The result of its skeletal structure is paper-thin; tipping on weightlessness with its contemporary revamp. Beggars can't be choosers, as there is some substantial bite in the large majority of its languid sequences, even amidst its chaotic whirlwind of sensuous events.
When Rodrigues specifically focuses on the abstract, Will-o'-the-Wisp shines through with meticulous direction and choreography. The film's peak is an extended dance-sequence set within a fireman's house; as the lovers at the core of Rodrigues' fantasia step in-and-out of frame with every interpretive move. Will-o'-the-Wisp is both a celebration of the human body and a tribute to queerness; a grandiose surrealist spectacle that is both graphic and expressive. There's a certain amount of subtext that derives from the situational comedy — a love-story which blossoms from the corporeal concerns of global warming and republican-sponsored white noise. The heart-burns with the conservation of wildlife and the fear of deadly viruses.
A fairytale all about the division of state, the sociological opposition against royalty, and the subsequent abolishment of traditionalist values, João Pedro Rodrigues' Will-o'-the-Wisp is a short and sweet cinematic delicacy. Its heavenly runtime compacts plenty of rich ideas for a generation of cinephiles more aware of their political climate. Albeit messy in its rudimentary stages of character introductions and pivotal narrative punches, the film's deeply arousing execution amplifies a relatively dull topic on the convergence of monarchy to a sexually-liberating romance — a film unafraid of its wondrous grandeur and depictions of same-sex magnetism.