Adam Lee Davies


El Bar – first look review

Álex de la Iglesia’s frisky, single-set survival thriller from Spain loses its steam after an impressive opening act.

Is this the first ever film where the hipster becomes the hero? Not a smirking Ryan Gosling in a satin crew-jacket or Jason Schwartzman as a hip, corduroy coffee-houser, but a full-on, shovel-bearded, braces-wearing, gadget-obsessed media knob-end.

But then, Alex de la Iglesias’s Madrid-set drama is so full of flipped perceptions that the only thing you can be sure of is that nobody is what they seem. Ex-cop with an anger issue? Will turn out to be a dreadful coward. Middle-aged shrew with a gambling addiction? Sure to be a stone-cold fatalist with more grit to her than an oceanful of oysters. Snooty It-girl in killer heels and this morning’s hairdo? You can see where this is going…

It all starts so well. A bunch of complete strangers are going about their business in a down-to-earth bar in the centre of Madrid. Some are lunching locals, some are passing randoms who have popped in for a quick coffee or to use the loo. To say much more would be to spoil what is a largely enjoyable romp, but it’s fair to say that the patrons of El Bar will be spending a great deal of the remaining running time in each other’s company, and that things will take more than a few – though not nearly the required amount – of twists and turns before their extended lunch-break is through.

Yep, we got ourselves a lock-down. And for any such film to work, the inevitable reversals need to pile up against each other in a timely, lop-sided and crafty fashion. Not, as is the case here, for for everything to go topsy-turvy early-doors and subsequently settle into fairly predictable tit-for-tat of survival movie clichés. The result is an uneven experience in which the energy, inventiveness and promise of the opening act is abandoned in favour of reductive bouts of tired and tiring genre filler.

Published 20 Feb 2017

Tags: Berlin Film Festival Spanish Cinema

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