The Problem with Problemista

Recently, I went to see “Problemista,” the 2024 film directed by Julio Torres, starring himself and Tilda Swinton. Here’s the premise: Alejandro Martinez, a mild-mannered young man with seemingly insurmountable problems, wants to work as a toy designer at Hasbro, even though his pitches include such questionable (and hilarious) propositions as “Toys are too preoccupied with fun.” He ends up working under the table for Elizabeth Ascencio, an art critic and cyclone of paranoia and rage who gets what she wants by making herself a problem for people (hence the title of the film), although finally, this creates more problems for her than it solves. 

As the plot progresses, they help one another towards their goals, where Alejandro needs visa sponsorship or faces deportation, and Elizabeth wants to track down and exhibit the artworks of her cryogenically preserved husband.

Along the way, a third character appears — FileMaker Pro, known to some as “the problem solver’s problem solver.” Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Not so fast. 

Throughout the film, FileMaker Pro is presented as a problem rather than a solution. A previous intern used it to develop some kind of artwork-tracking application for Elizabeth, but she created independent and geographically isolated copies that quickly went out of sync with one another. The film treats this misalignment as an overarching metaphor for disorder and disagreement, with the pursuit of harmony as both characters’ driving need.

Through various events that provide the filmmaker the opportunity to critique the US immigration and work visa system in contrast with humiliating under-the-table gig work (my favorite aspect of the film), the plot achieves the following resolutions:

1) Learning that his toy designs have been plagiarized by the hiring manager at Hasbro, Alejandro adopts Elizabeth’s strategy of making himself a problem by confronting this person and demanding a job. 

2) He also gets Elizabeth to step backwards and hold her fire while he acts as her proxy, collecting a missing artwork from her nemesis and finding an art gallery that will exhibit the entire collection. 

3) Years later, he finally syncs the databases, prompting Elizabeth to exclaim the final words of the film, “Order reigns supreme!”

Unfortunately for the film, the reality of the Claris Platform undermines this chaos-to-order metaphor completely. FileMaker Pro is only one of many components in a comprehensive platform that, used correctly, could have solved Elizabeth’s artwork problem from the beginning. Although the film doesn’t say much about how FileMaker Pro has, in fact, been used – this is always represented as an impenetrable mystery – in real life, Claris provides starter templates for a wide variety of use cases. These include inventory and asset libraries, ideal for addressing Elizabeth’s use case of artwork management.

Her requirements strike me as quite simple, but if they had been more complex, the Claris Platform still would have been up to the task. Its strengths include the rapid development and prototyping of custom applications, detailed customization of interface and workflow, and ease of integration with outside systems. 

For example, Elizabeth is obsessed with showing the artworks at the Whitney and other prestigious institutions. Her custom application could have used the Claris Connect component to integrate with museum systems, automatically updating information such as loan terms and how the artworks were transferred and handled, or, in the case of a commercial gallery, commissioned and sold.

Even more importantly, the Claris Platform includes two robust options for hosting custom applications in the cloud: Claris Cloud and FileMaker Server. Cloud hosting allows each user of the custom application to interact with the same set of real-time data, which is Elizabeth’s key challenge. That interaction can take place using various platform components, depending on context: FileMaker Pro for application development and user interaction on desktop, FileMaker Go for iOS, FileMaker WebDirect for Android and web, and Claris Studio, which over time will become a web-based successor to FileMaker Pro.

In summary, the film’s subplot of out-of-sync standalone files is outdated. The problem could have been avoided if Elizabeth’s intern had simply used the platform appropriately. The fact that she didn’t reveals the filmmaker’s outdated knowledge of the platform and his deliberate misrepresentation of it to create a vague and forced metaphor. Alejandro and his predecessor couldn’t have addressed Elizabeth’s chaotic behavior or general technophobia, but from the very start – at least in terms of Elizabeth’s artworks – order could have reigned supreme. And that’s the problem with Problemista.

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