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La Comunidad
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 Festival)
Screenplay Jorge Guerricaecheverria and Alex de la Iglesia
Maiden Voyage Pictures/LolaFilms

‘A flat to die for –
neighbours willing to help.’

It 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 1950’s our films wouldn’t 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 ago now.

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. He’s 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.

Iglesia’s 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 doesn’t 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 Carmen’s bed. It is gross but there is more to come. The old man’s 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 it there.
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

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