Spaniard Álex de la Iglesia is one of contemporary cinema’s most adept directors when it comes to dealing with the dichotomy between the dull rawness of reality and the grotesque – which often descends into the chaotic – in a movie. Like his compatriot Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), De la Iglesia lets his story evolve without any fear between the exaggeration of morbid fantasy and the simplicity of everyday life in the small establishment of a metropolis, one giving the other the rhetorical foundation that the plot lacks to make it believable, but also dreamlike — in this case, evoking the nightmare — all at the same time.
The one who serves as an influence, obviously, also suffers from someone else. Released on February 15, 2017, “O Bar” refers to surrealist elements already incorporated by Buñuel from the work of Catalan artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), who in turn upset the canons of classicism to sign works whose surprisingly authorial nature has made their presence clear. De la Iglesia starts from the Bunuelian notion of scandalizing, while maintaining film steady hands, which don’t allow the narrative to spiral out of control, like the bacteria spreading through the credit sequence, an insightful backdrop to suggest one of the approaches to what you’ll be watching for more than a hundred minutes to follow .
It’s business as usual at the boteco de Amparo (by Terele Pavez, in average performance), a mix of bar and bakery in central Madrid, where Satur, played by Secun de la Rosa, also works. The living room is occupied by Nacho (of the unrecognizable idol Mario Casas); in addition to Andres, the role of Joaquin Climent, policeman; and the Argentinian Sergio, by Alejandro Awada, the typical middle-aged men used to frequenting these bibocas in their vast free time. Soon the housewife Trini, by Carmen Machi, arrives, a nervous type who shows the discomfort of being there; and Israel, the mendicant prophet by Jaime Ordóñez. Closing the octet of protagonists is the dondoca Elena, played by Blanca Suarez, who is, yes, completely out of place in this filthy microcosm, the environment itself insinuating a kind of parallel dimension deposited there by the carelessness of the stars, very reminiscent of the dystopian atmosphere of an Earth subject to higher and hidden excesses, to John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988).
What is seen soon after, as Buñuel would also show, is the imposition of disorder, seemingly without explanation. A man walks out of the bar and is shot on the sidewalk; the guy who runs towards him, in order to check if he is still breathing and to help him, is also shot. Those who remain – Amparo, Satur, Nacho, Andres, Sergio, Trini, Israel and Elena – can only, compelled by the mysterious circumstances of recent events, wait to see if they find out what is really going on, but the press -even is still doesn’t have much to say, according to the newscast. The mystery arc of this long first act of “The Bar” ends with the discovery of the body of a man in the bathroom, who died of an overdose.
From then on, the screenplay by De La Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevaría delves once and for all into what had been proposed even before the plot took shape: to highlight the paranoia that borders the life of ordinary mortals, always vulnerable, especially with the rise of terrorist movements all over the world, but especially in Europe, a continent where the presence of immigrants is increasingly evident. Like it or not, the director tackles the subject, albeit tangentially, by having an Argentinian, Alejandro Awada, in the cast, while also including Asian extras such as Tony Lam.
In order to investigate what is happening and put an end to the torment they are forced to live through, part of the characters literally descend into hell, entering a gallery of sewers which, unlike almost all other films in which such a scenario is used, strives for a sense of truth — and it should be noted that Amparo, the owner of the bar; Satur, your employee; Andres, the lawman, the authority, and Sergio, the stranger, remain in the space where the action took place, protected, until another event occurs, a twist with which the director reinforces the argument that no one can be considered safe, nor the powerful in the plot.
The well-guided performances of Álex de la Iglesia make “O Bar” a little more than expected. The film serves the function of entertaining well, also managing to open a flank to increasingly pressing discussions on topics such as tolerance, the transience of life, the need to work around differences, especially in dire circumstances. . The twist on Jaime Ordóñez’s character, towards the end with mere philosophical notes—personified by the inconsolable face of Elena de Blanca Suarez—would have already earned the torrential story all the attention.
The simplicity of “O Bar”, even when it unfolds on such mad subjects, is what holds the viewer until the last scene, the force of which would make Buñuel, Dalí and all the other art madmen, the best cure for madness in the world. , proud.