It's a busy morning in one of Madrid's plazas. A group of seemingly random people are sitting in a bar eating and drinking: a socialite, a housewife addicted to gambling , a homeless man who has found God , a waiter, a hipster , a businessman, a cynic, the owner of the bar , an office worker, a street cleaner, and a man needing to use the bathroom.
Suddenly, one of the customers is shot and killed as he is leaving the bar. The group are stunned, and one of them rushes outside to his aid. He too is fatally wounded and collapses on the street. Trapped in the bar, everyone tries to make sense of the inexplicable events.
Is the killer outside, or could the perpetrator be in the bar itself?
Who will be killed next? Why is no one coming to help them?
These are the questions racing through the minds of the bar patrons. Left no choice but to discover who they really are, caught between terror and confidence, egotism and solidarity, they struggle to survive amidst outbursts of greed, hatred and helpfulness. Director Álex de la Iglesia cannily shows a group of people exploring the extremes of the human condition.
I have only listed who the characters are (or appear to be) at the start of the film. Part of the thrill of this film is discovering who they really are as the film races towards its conclusion.
As the group start to challenge each other's beliefs and convictions, they are symbolically split in two; half of them remain upstairs, with the others banished to the basement. Here, the most "wretched" of them is sent even further below to the sewer.
It's interesting how de la Iglesia has used the analogy of the basement and the sewer for the lower levels of Hell, and he seems to be using this as part of a greater commentary on the role of religion in society as a whole. Should people be concerning themselves day-to-day with the Reckoning and eternal damnation?
Another film to compare this to would be The Matrix, with its themes of perception and questioning reality. Has the survivor saved themself by the film's end, or are they now doomed?
The camerawork is extremely deft and restrained. The opening scene is a long tracking shot, showing the main characters as they arrive at the bar all in one take. It's a great film-making tool, and it's perfectly used here. Late in the film, a SnorriCam shot is used, enhancing an already tense scene massively. In general, the camera is never still; this creates a sense of unease, with the knowledge that things will come to a head soon.
There are a few things I didn't quite understand; the opening credits have some bizarre natue and science images set to jazz music, and during the film, Nacho's lack of personal space when talking to Elena was a recurring motif. I will gladly watch it again, as I'm sure that there are hidden reasons for these.
A very visual film, almost to the point of not needing subtitles, The Bar is a great example of the modern Spanish thriller. Mixing black comedy, suspense and dystopia in the same vein as other Spanish films (such as the REC series), The Bar also manages to hold up a pretty damning mirror to contemporary society. Issues such as prejudice, religion and the afterlife, and ethics vs. morals are all discussed at some point in the film.
The Bar is rated R, and is playing nationally as part of the Spanish Film Festival from the 21st of April to the 13th of May. For more information on session times and ticketing, go to the festival website or to their Facebook page