Monday 1 May 2017

Spanish Film Festival (8) - A Barrie Pattison double bill. Enthusiasm for THE ONE-EYED KING and ESCAPE PLAN

The One-Eyed King/El re borni
Well even the least likely entry in the Spanish Film Festival, Marc Crehuet's El rei borni/The One Eyed King, minimally adapted from his stage play, proves to have considerable interest - strong performances and probing interrogation of issues.

Alain Hernández (better in Plan de fuga/Escape Plan, see below) is again the Spanish shave headed macho man, here occasionally putting rounds into the apartment wall when he inventories his stock of weapons and playing the “Red Orchestra” gunfire video game on the home TV.

As a police riot officer, he shot out a demonstrator’s eye with a rubber bullet. He tries to defend his act to his epicure cooking (shot of the two portions of pea soup going down the sink) wife Ruth Llopis. To open up her world he encourages her to contact Betsy Túrnez, the friend she lost contact with when Túrnez became a student. This means Miki Esparbé, her husband and the shooting victim, unexpectedly turns up as their dinner guest.

Llopis offering her husband oral and anal sex doesn’t restore marriage relations after the confrontation between the two men. She leaves him and, trying to win her back, Hernández calls Esparbé and attempts to create an understanding. This takes a while to gel but gradually Hernández absorbs his opponent’s activist rhetoric and attempts to put it to his superior. (Compare George Clooney in Hail Caesar)

This gets Hernández transferred to a desk.

The marriage still shattered, desperate and disturbed Hernández acts with the bloody violence that comes naturally to him. His wife and the other couple are appalled, though Túrnez warms to his idea of direct action, suggesting cutting off a finger to send with their demand.

Hernández finally realises the enormity of his actions (“Nobody told me it was wrong”).

Striking touches - locating the piece by the mirror Hernández smashed, his removing his full riot gear - still evoke a theater production but OK craft aspects attempt to compensate for the time spent in the apartment setting - camera, editing, music, distinctive titles and sound mix to go with the expert performances.

There are a lot of films in this event that represent a better return on festival prices but this is still worth watching.

Escape Plan/Plan de Fuga
Iñaki Dorronsoro's  Plan de fuga/Escape Plan is a superior crime piece with ingenious twists to go with strong performances and production. Pity the Spanish FF buts it up against the Luis Tosar Cien años de perdón/To Steal from a Thief (click on the link for an earlier review) which is already good but outclassed in the comparison - more cutting round holes through concrete floors. Here the mechanics of the criminal group suggest Melville but this one is more polished and has sharper characterisations - think Claude Sautet.

Shaven headed Alain Hernández joins the Russkie robbery team in a test run break in on the Madrid complex Torre Norte office, where they burn the files to prevent an audit. It proves to be a dummy run for their bank vault job where they check problems like the heat generated by using a burning lance in the confined space of a container. Hard man Hernández takes a dim view of becoming part of a tax fraud when they told him they were robbing the safe but they re-assure him he’s now part of their criminal family.

As a fringe benefit - or irritation - Hernández finds the young stripper from the heavies’ club on his stairwell. Scene of him having his apple and bottle water health food meal while she puts ketchup on a burger. They hit the bed. Hernández talks about his criminal past when they got so confident that they went for a dip after a job and left the getaway truck parked, with the cops catching up with them. He just kept on swimming while the law got his partner who he watched deteriorate in prison.

Cop Luis Tosar is on the case interviewing the crooked attorney who set up the bogus raid. They face off, with him demanding to see Luis’ shield and Luis wanting one of the lawyer’s business cards, the pair offering bogus co-operation. Tosar's part is smaller here but he makes his presence felt.

Turns out the now addicted partner Javier Gutiérrez (memorable in La Isla Minima/Marshland) has been recruited by the heavies and arrives as Hernández is working in his welder’s mask on the robbery van. While they are absorbing this new development, the black wearing Interpol SWAT team appears for a brutal shoot-out which disposes of the heavies we thought were going to carry the film’s action. Hernández shoves the junkie through the back door and throws away the key, surrendering.

He’s being roughed up by the Interpol commander when Tosar shows up introducing one of the film’s unexpected developments.

Running alongside, Hernández’ wife is on about him taking care of their hospitalized daughter (more sack action) and Gutiérrez has this dream of opening a beach bar in South America with his share of the loot. Hernández blows smoke through that scheme, saying he’ll put the returns in his arm before he even got to the country - which has an extradition treaty anyway. More prison would kill Gutiérrez.

I won't spoil the welcome surprises of the ending which involves moments like the stripper's customer sent off to have a cold shower, a pair of robbers walking through the marbled banking hall in balaclavas and waving shot guns with no one taking any notice or Tosar studying the thermal image of the bandit who is pondering giving up as conditions deteriorate.

Throw in a happy end with either coda.

This one is worth seeking out.

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