The terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris in 2015 spread fear like wildfire. Parisians we’re afraid to drink in cafes, paranoid of loud noises and suspicious characters. When war leaves the battlefield and strikes ordinary people anywhere, nowhere is safe.
Director Alex de la Iglesia feeds off this frenzied fear and random violence in his latest feature, El Bar. On an average morning in Madrid, two people sit down for breakfast in the terrace of a bar, when suddenly one is shot in the head and the other fatally wounded. The remaining customers and staff take refuge inside the venue, uncertain whether the attacker is a sniper on the roof or a psychopath in the building with them.
The ensemble cast brilliantly pull the story in different directions as each one of them reacts in alternative ways. The small bar, the underground cellar and the secret tunnels under Madrid become the stage for the nastiest, most repressed emotions of all of Europe: extreme paranoia, cold indifference, hateful prejudice and cloaked nationalism.
Iglesia peppers the heightened drama with moments of black humour, some of which add another layer of absurdity to the action and others that undermine the drama. The director has labelled his film a “comedy of terror” and the combination reflects how routine these attacks have become, as routine as our reactions.
The police seal the bar off and the characters begin turning on each other as the camera movement becomes more restrained and claustrophobic. When a man is found dead in the bathroom, the mystery becomes even more unsolvable. The frantic fracturing of groups within the group brilliantly illustrates how divided and diverse Europe has become.
A clever and surreal take on the Zeitgest, El Bar is a breathlessly modern account of a society that has succumbed to fear. As the action escalates, the story almost falters under its own weight but the mystery keeps this film riveting throughout.
El Bar (The Bar) does not have a UK release date yet.
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