Returning to the horror-comedy genre of his early films, Álex de la Iglesia’s The Bar uncovers Spanish society at a frightening pace.
The Craziesby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
With a narrative structure traditional of the horror genre, Alex de la Iglesia’s The Bar is a comedy with a difference. It charts the final hours of the denizens of a shabby bar in Madrid’s centre, and they’re a microcosm of all society – from the pretty socialite Elena (Blanca Suarez) and advertising creative Nacho (Mario Casas) to loudmouthed Amparo, the bar’s owner and Israel (Jaime Ordóñez), the down-and-out in from the cold. There’s little attention paid to establishing a narrative, and when two men are shot directly after leaving the bar, the others are left to piece together the narrative – of an infected Spanish soldier returning from Africa, carrying an epidemic and only four antidotes. Maybe.
Instead, Alex de la Iglesia focuses on the visceral and scatological pleasures of the journey, punctuated with the horrors of an eye-popping corpse and a drop into the sewers. Along the way however, Iglesia drops a few references to contemporary Spain – the scripture-spouting Israel down on his luck after owning two houses, Trini (Carmen Machi) who turns her back on the bar not out of contempt but out of shame and Sátur’s (Secun de la Rosa) speech which makes of Amparo’s bar a society in miniature, where during hard times people comfort and support each other. The Bar runs at a rollicking speed, barely pausing for breath (or time to read the subtitles) and its frenzy is both exhilarating and challenging. Like its eponymous setting, it’s an old fashioned pleasure of society turning against each other, fragile loyalties and the power of the gun. And as the Final Girl walks in the concluding scene into the crowds of the Gran Via, vaccinated with an antidote that may work or may not, there’s a frisson of anxiety that the epidemic may already be out there. Grimy and cheerless, like the sewers it sinks into, The Bar is a dirty pleasure; wildly energetic and exuberant.
The Bar is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival