El bar (Álex de la Iglesia, 2017)

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El bar, directed by Álex de la Iglesia (a.k.a. The Bar, 2017).

Score: very effective.

Coquettish and shallow Elena (Blanca Suárez) walks into a bar just by chance: she’s on her way to a blind date and her phone has run out of battery. Inside the bar there are its usual denizens: the owner, Amparo, (Terele Pávez), and her lifelong employee Sátur (Secun de la Rosa); bearded young hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), middle-aged lady who’s addicted to slot machines Trini (Carmen Machi), retired cop Andrés (Joaquín Climent), mysterious businessman Sergio (Alejandro Awada) and deranged hobo who loves to quote the Bible Israel (Jaime Ordóñez). When a man walks out of the bar and is shot in the head from an unknown angle, they all know something very serious is going down.

First of all, if you’re claustrophobic, beware that this movie plays a lot with reduced spaces and stressful situations. Its characters are quite genre-savvy: they soon realize they’re not in a normal situation and start ticking possibilities off their list. Once the genre is established, the rules are followed to the last consequence. In the end, the details are not important: what the movie wanted to talk about is how people are forced to change under extreme situations and how they show their true colours then. And you, dear viewer, are part of that game too: which of them deserve to survive the most? Which do you want to get to see the end of the movie?

This movie is an effect movie: it wants you to feel trapped, threatened and grossed out; it uses every tool it has at its disposal to do so and it succeeds, so it’s a good movie even if only for that reason. It has many trademarks of De la Iglesia’s moviemaking, such as his fascination for the grotesque, social commentary and characters trapped in tight places, pretty much literally. For my taste, the social commentary is somehow blunt in the beginning of the movie and the black comedy doesn’t quite work but as the movie progresses and the comedy is dropped it greatly improves.

The social commentary gets subtler, once it goes beyond ridiculizing the characters: note how their relationship with the powers that be is essentially different from anything on the American movies that modeled the genre. It’s no coincidence; De la Iglesia has made the genre his and used it to comment on aspects of our society (that we both share for being Spanish) that worry him, in this case, the government’s management of extreme situations.

All in all, much better than I expected and recommended.

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