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Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Bar (2017) Thriller, Survival

The Bar (2017) -  Spanish Writer / Director  Álex de la Iglesia has a cult following and continues to make interesting films based in characters' interpersonal conflict and in unusual situations. Known for many more than these few titles, Day of the Beast (1995), The Oxford Murders (2008) and reviewed by this blog Witching and Bitching (2013) he is a recognized director with skill in the script and behind the camera. The Bar (2017) is a thriller set in a Madrid cafe where a group of people become trapped when an unseen gunman kills a man outside the shop. The mystery of why that happened and why the government seems to be covering up the shootings is discovered through the collection of characters trapped inside seeking a way out. What Iglesia and writing partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría do so well is wrap into the plot a discovery through the personalities and flaws of the people trapped in such extraordinary circumstances. They weave the plot into the responses by the characters deftly moving the plot forward without giving away the whole story too soon. Each character based in there own world makes decisions based on that so decisions don't seem so random.
 In the bar are some basic stereotypes, working class owner Ampalo (Terele Pávez) is the gruff ruler of her space, she sees the world through hard work and a distrustful eye. She has timid Sátur (Secun de la Rosa) working for her, for 15 years making a living cooking and cleaning for others in the shop. There is also a collection of customers, regulars Trini wonderfully and subtly played by Carmen Machi) in her 50's woman is a weekly player of the slot machine who struggles with self esteem, retired cop Andrés (Joaquín Climent) who is short tempered and misses the job, underwear salesman Sergio (Alejandro Awada) who remembers the civil war and when things gets tough wishes for the decisiveness of the dictatorship. Joining them as a regular is somewhat insane neighborhood street person Isreal (Jaime Ordóñez), Ampalo obviously has a working relationship with him even though he is a bit unstable at times. Spouting off biblical sayings and basically not buying into how society regularly acts. Ordóñez plays the part with a gusto that fills scenes with energy. Then a some not regular customers who happened in that day, lovely upper class Elena (Blanca Suárez), and hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), finishing out the roles are a street cleaner who is an early victim and a military captain and catalyst who goes to the bathroom sick. All the characters are suddenly trapped when a man is shot outside the cafe / bar.

  When the event takes place the group freezes and fears that a terrorist attack like the one in Paris in 2015. They know there is a gunman shooting from up high outside but are not sure where he is. The conflict comes from what to do about it. Do you stay hidden hoping the police arrive soon? Do you make a run for it? The street cleaner opts to try to help the shot man on the street and is promptly shot through the head. In the panic to re-hide the group in the shop do not see the bodies taken away. The realization that there are no police leave raises the paranoia level of the group wondering if the threat is both inside and outside. There is nothing being reported on the television making them think there is a government cover up but they still don't know what the story is. It makes the more paranoid of the group accuse others and sides are drawn and allegiances made very quickly. The idea that the government may kill them also mentioning the real life Russian / Chechen stand off where the military ended up killing most of the hostages in order to end a stand off in a theater.
  When they remember the man in the bathroom some of the story is pieced together. He has taken a injection before dying and now the group thought moves towards the idea that he is infected with something. Learning some of what he knows through his phone they think that he was infected and that the government is trying to stop the spread of what he has. Their bad luck to be in the shop when he came in. While figuring this out outside we see men in gas masks starting a smokey fire in the street using old tires, then the television reports the block has been cut off by police and fire because of a blaze. The group knows this to be false but can't seem to get a phone signal all of a sudden leaving them cut off and turning on each other.
  The three oldest cast members become allies while the younger ones do the same. Realizing she Ampalo, Segio and Andres never touched the body of the dead infected man they use the gun Sergio carries to force the tainted down into the cellar with the body. Interesting that the three that can easily remember living under the Franco dictatorship are so quick to choose winners and losers. It is a tough moment for Sátur who has worked with Ampalo for 15yrs and now is disregarded by the woman.  It is an easy decision for the older people, for their part they are decisive, anyone who came in contact with the body has to be separated. It is a single focused approach that fails to take in the larger picture that there is a government operation going on to clean up the situation. When everyone else is sealed away the story does not show them again although we hear a outcome for the trio.
  The story continues with the remaining five characters as they try to figure out what to do. We learn that they maybe have an antidote, if it works but the messages on the capt's phone are not perfectly clear. He is carrying four more needles of the serum, but the problem is that there are five people left. Self interest and swaying alliances as well as one really contrive development has the climax of the story playing out in the sewers below the bar. We see how a small advantage, like being the one with the gun changes how people operate and think about survival. Each person uses the presented situations to his or her advantage. Altruism is in short supply but flashes of it sometime start to leak through. When all is said and done the film really does speak to human decision making when stressed with a life or death situation. Not completely answering the question of whether the antidote works or not the story instead becomes about who will survive the strife between characters. The ambivalent ending leaves the viewer to ask more question while it does answer the interpersonal ones.
  All and all I liked the film as I have liked other Iglesia and Guerricaechevarría films, they are not perfectly constructed always but like many of the character the flaws of them are interesting. There is mixed in through their dialog cultural references about class and politics that I find refreshing. Often the ending is the hardest thing to find and in this film it seemed really good closure was elusive, or I did not quite get it.  Still with that I recommend checking out "The Bar" on Netflix it is a solid crisis drama, thriller worth the watch.

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