In the past couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to cross off two titles from my most anticipated films of 2017 list, thanks to the local French and Spanish film festivals that have played here in Melbourne. The French Film Festival provided me the opportunity to see Kiyoshi Kurosawa's “Daguerrotype”, whilst just the other night at the Spanish Film Festival I saw Alex de la Iglesia's “The Bar”.
Its a normal morning in a city on the outskirts of Madrid. People go about their daily business like any other day. A group of strangers, unconnected in any way other than in their need to find food or drink at this time of the day, find themselves together in a local food bar. Everything is regular, with the sound of constant conversation heard throughout the place, and no one inside this bar has any idea that this day is going to be anything but normal. A patron pays his bill, stands to leave and exits onto the street outside, where he is immediately gunned down by a single shot from a sniper, the sound echoing throughout the air. Within seconds the streets outside are abandoned and the patrons inside, terrified. When another patron decides to bring the bleeding and presumed dead man back inside on the off chance that they can still help him, he too suffers the same fate of the man he was trying to save. With two dead men now at the base of the front door, it becomes immediately apparent to those still inside that not only are they now trapped in this bar, but they are at the centre of something huge, something that in these moments of madness, they have no chance of understanding. However extreme fear and self preservation does a funny thing to a person and it isn't long before everyone turns on one another, blaming or accusing them for the situation they now find themselves in. Through all the bicker and arguments, suddenly someone realises that the two bodies have disappeared. Where could they have gone, who took them and just what the hell is going on here??
As long and as colourful as that synopsis is, believe it or not, that is only the first ten minutes of “The Bar”, and from here on, the film takes many twists and turns into unexpected terrorities and tonal changes that I wont ruin here. For those though that do like their labels, I would describe “The Bar” as a black comedy/thriller with brief flourishes of horror. Alex de la Iglesia and his regular co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria have come up with an exciting scenario and have taken it in bold and unexpected directions that give the pair a chance to critique current societal values and the way we, as a race, no longer look out for one another, rather we will do anything to survive even at the expense of another.
De la Iglesia has filled the bar with archetypal representations to create a microcosm of modern society, but is smart enough to give them enough colour and character to make it less obvious that this is what he is doing. The characters in the bar consist of a bible quoting homeless man, a gambling addicted loner, an ex-cop, a lingerie salesman, an advertising executive who amusingly also looks like a stereotypical Muslim, a gorgeous woman, an older cranky woman who owns and runs the bar and her long time male worker. They are an interesting and fun mix of people that de la Iglesia is able to define quickly and make them all memorable, by giving each character their moment. Through these characters he is able to hold a very sad mirror towards our world as it is today, especially in regards to how paranoid and scared we all are, where every where we look, we now see a threat , no matter how placid an object or person may actually be. It is a case of suspect or accuse first, ask questions later. De la Iglesia, in his very un-PC way has a ball with this concept, creating tension over a lingerie filled briefcase, and making fun of the fact that the guy with the Muslim like beard must be the most suspicious character, at least at the start.
Whilst Blanca Suarez, is undoubtedly the star of “The Bar” and is incredibly good in her role of Elena, the person who steals the film from right under her nose is Jaime Ordonez, who plays the doomsday spouting homeless man Israel. His character is grotesque but Ordonez commits and goes for it one hundred percent, making every moment with this madman brilliant, and at times, chilling. He is unrecognisable in the role, donning disgusting long matted hair and with a pair of chipped and very unclean teeth; from a visual standpoint he is someone you want to look away from, but the brilliance of Ordonez's performance means that you sit there transfixed to every moment he is on screen. In saying all that, I should point out that everyone gives great performances here, and importantly for an ensemble cast, they all compliment each other perfectly with no one trying to out do anyone else. It was also great to see Alex de la Iglesia working with Terele Pavez yet again, this time in the role of Amparo, the bitchy and always cranky owner of the bar. One recurring moment that I did love was all the male characters attempting to comfort Elena, for the simple fact she is gorgeous and they just want to touch her. It is amusing because a lot of the time de la Iglesia doesn't make a big scene of it, with it happening in the background or even sometimes out of focus.
Like all films by Alex de la Iglesia, “The Bar” moves at a breakneck pace. The first ten minutes are like a bullet train, where we meet the characters, see the situation they are in and then watching them panic and react. By the end of the sequence, you feel exhausted and it felt like it was going to be impossible to stay with the film if the entirety of it moved at this pace. Thankfully though, the film slows down for a bit and gives you and it, time to breathe, before taking off yet again. My biggest criticism of de la Iglesia and his films are that he is so imaginative that he tends to put too much into them, and because of this I usually enjoy his films that are a little more controlled and not as outrageous. That is a ridiculous thing to say because all of Alex de la Iglesia's films are insane; no one makes films like he does, but I tend to prefer those that are a little pared back which I'm happy to say “The Bar” is. Whilst it isn't a long film at all, due to the fast pace of the film and the exhaustion it creates by trying to keep up with it, it does feel longer than it is. I will say that the third act, which takes place in the sewers down below the bar, does outstay its welcome because it becomes a little repetitive by this stage, but for mine this is really the only fault with the film.
Overall, with “The Bar” Alex de la Iglesia has created another one of his excellent black comedies, this time all wrapped up in a thriller too. While the film is loaded full of the darkest comedy that would make most PC viewers blush, it is also one that is not without a social conscience. Unfortunately because the film has a mystery element to it, there are elements of the film that I cannot talk about in my review, especially while the film is still so new, so I apologise if this review seem a little anaemic. After “My Big Night” and now “The Bar”, it appears that de la Iglesia is on a bit of a roll again. Thankfully he has another film due out later in the year, that he has already shot; the remake of the recent Italian film “Perfect Strangers”. Hopefully he keeps his streak going, but either way, “The Bar” ranks right up there with his best and is one that has a lot of re-watch value.