THE HANGED MAN (El juego del ahorcado) (2008)
Director: Manuel Gómez Pereira
Cast: Alvaro Cervantes, Clara Lago, Adriana Ugarte, Abel Folk, Victòria Pagès, Víctor Valdivia, Mary Murray
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: R21 (Sexual Scenes)
Opening Day: 8 September 2011
Synopsis: Gerona 1989. Sandra (15) and David (16) have been best friends since childhood. For DAVID, SANDRA represents love and she is his best adventures partner. By the time they get to adolescence, it’s only logical that their friendship should become something deeper. But something unexpected happens to them both, separately, and changes the course of their lives. She is forced to become a survivor, and he, incapable of betraying his friend, becomes the holder of a secret. Together, they forge a relationship of complicity, something which they don’t need to couch in words. They love each other, with childlike innocence and cruelty, though with bodies that foreshadow the advent of adulthood. Everything is more or less fine until Sandra is driven by curiosity to attempt to cross the threshold of that secret, to find out, to get to know the only thing her friend never told her.
There must be a reason why the local distributor decided to bring this Spanish production here three years after it was made. Is there artistic merit for this 2008 film (most non Hollywood mainstream movies which make it to our shores have those artistic vibes) directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira? Has the film gotten international acclaim and received accolades from festivals around the world? Or is there a certain, ahem, demographic that the distributor aims to attract, considering how the female lead is looking at you alluring on the poster?
Of course, the leads on the poster also suggest that this is a film that features lots of, well - how do we put it in the most polite manner - passion.
We first meet the protagonists when they are kids. In a rather unique setup, the boy risks his life to save the girl, leaving quite an impression. The two grow up, with the boy struggling with his studies in school (no thanks to a repressive father) and the girl becoming a loner. The two grow even closer after the girl gets raped. Somewhere in the mix, a crime of passion is committed, someone gets killed and what follows is a complex relationship that leads to tragedy.
The film starts off with an interesting premise, and viewers would have no problem empathizing the characters’ motivations and actions. Things get even more compelling when we see the female protagonist abused and her childhood best friend comes forward heroically to avenge her. Set against the Spain’s fervent backdrop, there is an unabashed idealism which will appeal to the romantics in the art house crowd.
Then comes the portion of the film which attempts to show how love becomes obsession. The guy becomes compulsive and almost irrational as the girl finds it increasingly claustrophobic to be with him. This section of the 108 minute film feels overlong as we see the couple engage in quarrels and fights. Yes, this is also the part of the film where viewers will be treated to lots of skin.
Although director Gomez Pereira (known back home for his comedies rather the thrillers like this) does a fine job at depicting the intensity between the couple, the final act of the film which involves the girl moving on to Dublin isn’t managed well. As the film ends predictably, viewers may feel unsatisfied at the somewhat shoddy finale which is supposed to heighten your emotional senses.
Despite the slight letdown in pacing, leads Clara Lago (For the Good of Others) and Alvaro Cervantes (Hanna) are charming enough to keep you rooted to your seats throughout the film. Though not spectacular in their delivery of the central characters, the actors are likeable and pass the eye candy test. Elsewhere, stronger performances come from Adriana Ugarte (TV’s Hospital Central) who play the girl’s best friend and Mary Murray (The Magdalene Sisters) who play the girl’s English teacher mentor.
Shot in picturesque Spanish cities of Barcelona and Girona, as Ireland’s Dublin, the film captures the sights and sounds of these foreign lands, so that we can have a sense of what it’s like to experience love and passion in a place other than Singapore.
(An adequate tale of love and passion which could have been managed better in its final act)
Review by John Li
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