The last two films by Spanish filmmaker Álex de la iglesia saw the light almost in unison, The bar and Perfectos desconocidos came out in 2017, although their impact was quite different. While the former garnered more or less decent grosses, the latter became the director’s highest-grossing film.
Perhaps the plot of the remake of the Italian film Perfect Strangers is more attractive in the eyes of the mass audience, but the truth is that in it the essence of the director is somehow lost. The bar , on the other hand, is much closer to the peculiar style of Álex de la iglesia.
The Spanish director Álex de la iglesia
His is a bloody, bizarre and violent style through which the worst instincts manifest themselves. De la iglesia feels at home in this neighborhood bar and the grotesque setting into which the action flows. He is in his world, in the key of his cinema and his success. Which, on the other hand, plays a little against him; this convenience makes him trust too much in his film and in the idea that any expedient, however improbable and repetitive, can triumph.
De la iglesia has accustomed its viewers to a choral and colorful cast that works very well. However, he usually limps in the endings, in the closing of his films. The succession of bizarre events can be fascinating, but also fall into an absurd dimension that is difficult to bear. The bar is a nice, enjoyable movie with a really interesting topic. Despite this, it can be tiring, becoming one of those films that fails to shine in the director’s filmography, a film “like any other”.
The bar : the plot
On a normal morning, in the center of gigantic Madrid, a group of people have breakfast in a quiet bar. Some know each other, others are passing through. Suddenly, normality is interrupted by a tragic event: someone is killed by a gunshot in front of the door of the bar. The urban chaos fades, the city seems deserted and this group of characters find themselves trapped inside the bar.
The bar introduces us to an interesting topic, deepens and draws the characters well. As if it were a reflection of society, De la iglesia manages to capture the truth behind the mask. The nature we hide behind the roles we play in society.
The bar , a non-place
The bar we see in the film is a bar like any other, without any special charm. The typical place where people from the area enter to have breakfast in the morning or people who, like Elena, will not return to step on the floor. In this limited but well-known space, the characters that bring the film to life will move.
Marc Augé is the French anthropologist who is credited with coining the term “non-place”. What exactly is a non-place? A place of passage in which identity does not manifest itself, a space of artificial communication, which does not contribute anything to the individual. Augé identifies highways, hotel rooms, airplanes, etc. as non-places. In other words, those places where we stay for a short time, with which we barely interact and from which we will hardly extract meaningful relationships.
The non-place is opposed to the anthropological place, the place where identity resides. Non-places are spaces of passage, in continuous movement. Spaces with which contemporary society is increasingly studded. Whether or not a space is a non-place is totally subjective. It will depend on the meaning given to it by the individual and the degree of interaction one has with it. There are those who see in these spaces a kind of crossroads, of exchanges.
Thus the setting of Álex de la iglesia’s film is a bar with considerable flow and exchange. A non-place within the city, which never stops growing and moving, an anonymous place for many and a refuge for others. In it we find Elena, a young woman who enters the bar only to recharge her mobile phone, and Trini, a customer who goes there every day to play slot machines.
Elena and Trini are not the only characters present in the small space, but a total of eight characters will remain closed in the same. Álex de la iglesia has already shown his predilection for claustrophobia, for locking up a group of people in a place from which they cannot get out and in which they will experience extreme situations. Along the same lines, it offered the public titles such as La comunidad – Intrigo on the top floor or Mutant action and, for obvious reasons, the film The bar did not escape comparisons with one of the great films on the national scene: The exterminating angel of Luis Buñuel.
The bar takes place in a small space where conversations are not too deep; a place that represents something different for each character. An area that will remain frozen in the face of the frenetic pace of the contemporary city.
A heterogeneous cast as a representation of society
The bar is a good caricature of modern-day Spain, as it perfectly represents the mores of society. The characters are extremely colorful: a destitute, a young snob, but tremendously insecure, a middle-aged and apparently normal woman with gambling problems, a young hipster, a former policeman disbarred for alcoholism problems, etc.
As the situation becomes more and more desperate, the characters show their true nature. The Spanish philosopher Eugenio Trías spoke of it in his work Filosofía y Carnaval (Philosophy and Carnival). According to this philosopher, we act in relation to conventionalisms, to the roles that society has entrusted to us. These roles are multiple, we don’t always act the same in every situation and we don’t always project the same image.
This is exactly what we appreciate in the film. Continuing with the example with which we started, that of Elena, we see that the young woman does not act in the same way when talking on the phone with a friend of hers than when she enters the bar she does not know. Each character presents a certain duality: the image he projects as opposed to the secrets he hides from others.
This masked ball is a reflection of our world, of the bars we frequent every day, of modern cities in which identities are more and more colorful. Curiously, the character whose identity is most stable at all times is that of Israel, the destitute. Israel does not seem to belong to the same world as the others, he shows himself as a man who will have had infinite problems in the past, but who in no time tries to deceive us.
When the situation becomes desperate, all the characters will fight to survive, for their own individual survival, without worrying about others. At the heart of this “save whoever can”, the masks will dissolve showing the hypocrisy contained in our world. Israel, however, does not shed its mask or, at least, does so to a lesser extent; because? Simply because he doesn’t try to please anyone, he doesn’t want to project a distorted image of himself.
Are those we exclude more authentic? Israel is already in a desperate situation, already struggling every day for its survival; which is why he remains, in some way, excluded from society and, consequently, has no mask.
Between the eschatological, comic and tragic element, The bar envelops us in a demonstration of nature in its purest state, in its most animalistic stage. A situation in which the survival instinct prevails over morality and social norms. By unmasking the characters, the worst of the facets of the human being is revealed, the nature of our being in an extreme situation.