I stopped reviewing for a while because I was seeing too many movies with date embargoes, but I’ve decided to occasionally mention items I think may be of interest. Here’s one you may not have heard of…
It’s hard to make a mainstream comedy with a bit of depth. Hollywood and the UK rarely make comedies for adults and we rely largely on Europe to come up with something fresh and thoughtful for non-teens. ‘Los del Tunel’ (‘The Tunnel’) is consistently funny but somehow manages to invest its material with a genuine sense of pathos.
The Spanish production begins where films usually end. In the aftermath of a disaster, thirteen survivors are freed from a collapsed motorway tunnel. One of their number has died and another, a cop, is in a coma. The remaining freed drivers and passengers meet up three days later and form a survivors’ group over the first of a regular series of dinners. Surviving the trauma together galvanises them to improve their lives.
Their process of the Survivors’ Group’s self-empowerment takes many forms, from becoming responsible for aged parents and overcoming marital difficulties to coming out at work, but in spite of all the feelgood aphorisms and self-applause they give each other, they fail to change anything, and the mood between them sours.
One of their number feels the aftermath of the event hit him far more than all the rest. His wife and daughter weren’t with him in the tunnel and can’t understand what he’s going through. Unmoored from his life, he heads into an existential night of the soul.
Our hero has to put up with so many fractures in his post-disaster existence (the least of which is a CD of horribly catchy 70s duo Pecos jammed permanently on in his car) that he has a breakdown, eventually moving into the coma patient’s hospital room. The unconscious man is the only one to whom he can openly talk.
All of which sounds like heavy going, but this is a comedy, albeit a modern one about people in crisis, and is treated with such a farcical lightness of touch – and so many cracking jokes – that it becomes gently profound.
It’s all very Spanish, of course; everything stops for an argument, whole families and friends happily join in, and I’m sure I’ve been in the hopeless photocopy shop where frustrated customers end up having to serve themselves. A debut movie from director Pepón Montero, I hope we see more of his work in the future. The UK subtitles do a good job of linguistically reflecting some of the subtler Spanish jokes.
‘Los del Tunel’ follows films like ‘Ocho Apellidos Vascos’ (the hideously retitled ‘Spanish Affair’), which cost 3m and made 78m outside the US, and ‘Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis’ (Welcome to the Sticks’) which cost 11m and took 250m. All tackle local subjects with the understanding that they could be globally understood. Compare that to, say, ‘King Arthur’, which cost 175m and took just 35m, and one can see a reason for investing in smaller, better written films.