Directed by Alex de la Iglesia
(Former films Perdita Durango, Day of the Beast and 800 Bullets)
Starring Carmen Maura (Winner of Best Actress San Sebastian Film
Screenplay Jorge Guerricaecheverria and Alex de la Iglesia
Maiden Voyage Pictures/LolaFilms
A flat to die for
is at once curious and wholly dismaying that the best Ealing Comedy
in years turns out to be Spanish. This brilliant, hilarious study in
greed called La Comunidad (Common Wealth) is a perfect example
of the kind of films the British film industry was famous for and utterly
ceased to remember how to make. OK, in the 1950s our films wouldnt
have made the deaths quite so realistic or so relished the thuds as
bodies fall from high parapets or are cut in half by an ancient elevator.
We linger perhaps just too long as we watch the blood swell on the sidewalk,
or splash astonished tourists. In fact, these are all the elements of
a classic Alec Guiness movie, which were so well exploited by John Cleese
in his own Ealing comedy A Fish Called Wanda filmed decades
So how is possible that a Spanish director famous for horror and mutant
flicks (Action Mutante) can turn out such a well timed, black-comedy?
One, he has an excellent sense of humour and two he understands character.
Hes probably seen a few Hitchcock movies as well. Action Mutante,
a 1993 science fiction movie about a future world where everyone is
beautiful and are under threat from terrorists fighting for the rights
of ugly people underscores that point. Iglesia understands irony and
of course his films are a wonderful comment on the trends in society
in Spain and elsewhere. Similar to the earlier work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet
and Marc Caro (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) his world is filled
with freakish people living ordinary lives faced by extraordinary events.
Iglesias block of flats in Madrid is a crumbling wreck, and it
is the job of Carmen Maura as an agent to let one of the flats in the
building. It is something special, (although it doesnt have parking).
It is empty but beautifully furnished, so she plans a love tryst with
her husband. Unfortunately for him, he feels that his wife is showing
him this wonderful place because he is unable to provide for her (having
recently been fired and beaten up) and leaves in a huff. Upstairs there
is a secret however. An old man has died. He was a lottery winner of
some 300 million pesetas some years ago (Around $1.7 million dollars
US). It turns out he was terrified to leave the building in case the
other lodgers either killed him or stole his money. (All of which he
has hidden somewhere in the apartment). Now his is dead and the bugs
eating him crash through the ceiling onto Carmens bed. It is gross
but there is more to come. The old mans flat is a sordid horror
story, the cat has been eating him too and everywhere there is garbage.
Carmen finds a clue to the money and after the police have left the
scene bravely enters the stinking apartment. She means to find the money
herself before the rest can get up there.
However, it is one thing to find that money, quite another to get it
out of the building when every resident is watching and waiting for
their chance to grab it. They will do anything to stop her.
La Comunidad is bleak, often hysterically funny and by turns gross.
The suspense is genuine and the characters are utterly warped by years
of greed and waiting for the old man to die. What real estate agent
would have a chance against them? The final battle scenes on the roofs
above Madrid are a treat, the insanity of it all wonderful. It is beautifully
shot as well, the print version I saw was very sharp. It is really one
of the best films I have seen this year.
It is showing in London right now and with luck there will be a English
sub-titled DVD available soon. If you are visiting Spain, look out for
This film has not yet been released in the USA, or Canada, but if you
have any influence over an art house near you, tell them to get it in
and people will come.
© Sam North July 22nd 2003-07-22
all rights reserved