Problemista: Looking for Answers in a World of Problems

Set in the concrete jungle of New York City, Problemista tells the story of Alejandro (Julio Torres), an aspiring toy designer who has yet to successfully realize his dreams. Battling with immigration, Alejandro desperately searches for work in order to solidify his visa but can’t seem to find anything consistent (or satisfying). His world begins to change though when he meets Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), an art world outcast who insists on putting on an exhibit of her former partner’s work. Taking on Alejandro as an assistant, the two begin to work towards bringing this vision to life. 

Written, directed by and starring Julio Torres, Problemista is the sort of film that has made A24 the brightest star in the independent film circuit. Backed by their trademark mix of quirkiness and sincerity, Problemista is fueled with fiery fun yet still speaks to the harsh realities of Western culture.

In the midst of the madness, Problemista is anchored by some truly wonderful performances. As Alejandro, Torres truly immerses himself in the role. One gets a sense that this is undoubtedly his passion project and he pours that energy to his work both in front of the camera and behind it. At the same time, Swinton’s performance as his tyrannical boss is particularly noteworthy. Resisting the temptation to remain a one-note character, Swinton gives Elizabeth an empathy that makes her difficult to despise, even at her most wicked. Although she is not necessarily good-natured, the film allows us to see beyond the obsessive compulsiveness and rage in order to find a woman with love in her heart. Together, Swinton and Torres form an incredible onscreen duo. With one breathing fire and the other calming the waters, the two are a delightful pairing with wonderful chemistry.

Each moment in the film is meant to feel like a fever dream. Told from Alejandro’s perspective, the world carries a sense of anxiety. Whether it is hellish visions of his boss or the intricate maze of government policies, Alejandro’s world is embedded with existential dread. (In fact, his searches on Craigslist feel as though he’s literally scavenging amidst the garbage.) Even in its most ‘normal’ scenes, everything feels off kilter. 

To Alejandro, this is a world that makes no sense. And he is powerless within it.

Bouncing between menial jobs, Alejandro relentlessly searches for safe harbor but finds only rejection and humiliation. In this sense, the film taps into the heart of the immigrant experience as they are teased with the offer of the ‘American Dream’, but often sold a nightmare. For Alejandro, this is a space where he is constantly taken advantage of by those with power. His journey mirrors the plight of so many others as they are forced to navigate a maze of bureaucratic insanity, toxic privilege and frequent degradation.


Even so, Problemista doesn’t leave us in total despair. Despite constant setbacks, Alejandro remains a man who is committed to his dream. For him, waiting for the world to offer help has proven fruitless, no matter how hard he works. Yet, there’s a determination within him that remains admirable, even if the world conspires against him. This is a film that encourages the viewer to fight for what they believe is theirs instead of waiting around for it to be handed to them. In doing so, Problemista believes that there is both power and joy in becoming ourselves in an unwelcome world.

Problemista is available in theatres on Friday, March 22nd, 2024.

Leave a Reply