IN A GLASS CAGE (TRAS EL CRISTAL), 1986 Dir. Agustin Villaronga, Spain, 110 mins
There's a long – and probably ever-increasing – list of films that I want to watch and want to talk about here at Film Gutter. One film that I have been very aware of for a long time but haven't had the easiest time coming by is the dark Spanish thriller In a Glass Cage. Hugely acclaimed, and featured on a number of most disturbing film lists out there, I have been waiting for my chance to see this for ages. And my recent jaunt to Vimeo's On Demand section gave me just that opportunity.
The set-up for the movie is simple but brilliant – Klaus is a former member of the Nazi Party who, after a suicide attempt, finds himself paralysed and having to use an iron lung to breathe (the 'glass cage' to which the title refers). His wife, Grizelda, is at her wits end looking after him – with the support of her daughter Rena – and is just considering hiring a nurse when the mysterious Angelo arrives. Klaus seems determined to have him take on the job, a desire to which Grizelda eventually acquiesces.
Naturally, that proves to be something of a mistake as we, the viewer, learn more of Angelo's past and just why he is there to tend to Klaus. In his days in the Nazi party, Klaus abused and killed children for his own pleasure, enjoying their pain and their fear. Angelo was one of his victims, and now he is back in Klaus's company he intends to exact a very dark and bizarre revenge...
Now anyone who knows me will tell you I'm pretty big on Spanish film. I don't think a movie from the nation has ever disappointed me, and In a Glass Cage is no exception. In fact, this one is pretty extraordinary. I was absolutely gripped from the get go, and couldn't pull myself away from the screen for two hours. The tension is so full on throughout, as it's so hard to second-guess Angelo's strange intentions and to watch Klaus is in such a helpless position, despite how much of a monster he used to be. He could be killed any moment by pulling the plug or cutting out the power, something Grizelda almost takes it upon herself to do. It's two absolutely evil minds coming head to head, and Angelo is the one holding all the power in the situation – especially when he 'removes' Grizelda from the equation. The core relationship in the story is also complemented by a fascinating connection between Rena and Angelo, which grows in its own twisted way as he steps into the role of her father figure.
It's hard to say precisely what it is that makes In a Glass Cage so exceptional. The performances are extremely good all around, and the interaction between Klaus and Angelo absolutely crackles. The whole set-up is so clever and provides so many utterly horrible and chilling moments – the occasions where Angelo brings young children up to the apartment take nerves of steel to watch through – and while nothing is too explicit this movie uses atmosphere, suggestion and just genuinely brilliant visuals and sound to create a mood so oppressive as to make the movie utterly unforgettable. The flashbacks and cut scenes feel complimentary rather than intrusive, giving the whole narrative a fantastic flow and pace. It feels like a movie that – had it not covered such controversial subject matter – would surely have been an Oscar contender for pure quality performances, deft touch and gripping storyline.
It's always a real pleasure when something is really worth the wait...
RATING: 10/10. Dare I say, but this might be the best thing we've reviewed here at Film Gutter. Cleverly constructed, with wonderful acting from all involved and a story that has intelligence, tension by the bucketload and a fascinating angle on the situation. The movie has haunted me ever since I saw it, and I defy anyone to not feel at least a little uncomfortable watching this one. Very dark, very intense and bottom line very, very good.