It’s hard to imagine a more searing indictment of the ugliest, cruellest side of men-in-power than director-writer (after La Pasajera by Alonso Cueto) Salvador del Solar’s first feature.
As bad as the bullying, forced confinement, underage rape, torture, blackmail, cheating and lying are it’s the selective memory, willful blindness and family pride that are the constant allies of the atrocities then and now.
Much of the film is quietly understated—allowing the few moments of brutal violence to have greater impact without slipping into gratuitous gore; beautifully shot from many telling angles (thanks to the knowing eye/lens of Diego Jiménez) and beautifully underscored (largely string infused with even a hint of Verdi’s ethereal strings from La Traviata) by composer Federico Jusid along with players from the Orchestra Hungarian National Radio Studio 22 players.
Solar has opted for a generally slowish pace, allowing the drama to simmer then heat up decidedly as the plot twists—as clever as they are: the two ransom drops are very effective—give way to the human tragedies that no amount of cash (especially if “stolen” from the coffers of the familial perpetrators on behalf of the hapless victim) can forgive. Thank goodness this is all fiction! The neophyte director also demonstrates that he has learned much from past masters, calling for body language that speaks volumes and letting his principals’ eyes reveal the inner workings of troubled souls as they recall, deny or begrudgingly recover their past. Filmmaking of the highest order.
In the title role, Damiàn Alcàzar delivers a bravura performance as a former soldier whose current gig (when not driving a taxi owned by a fellow soldier-in-arms, now drunkard most foul¾Bruno Odar) consists of ferrying his former commanding officer to various places and appointments. Federico Luppi is a model of near-silent stoicism as the wheelchair-bound Colonel, whose long-ago predilection for nubile, virginal flesh drives much of the plot. The Colonel’s see-no-evil-hear-no-evil son, Augusto, is given a convincing depiction by Christian Meier, playing the wealthy businessman that is prepared to endure anything to keep the family name as clean as he knows it isn’t.
As good as those actors are, it is Magaly Solier’s gritty, wonderfully nuanced portrayal of Celina—captured play toy of the “victors” turned hairdresser and single mom (the pathetic state of her bastard son being both a further example of the evil that men do and curiously at one with the Looner from Robertson Davies’ masterful novel, What’s Bred in the Bone)—is superb. Her final scene in the police station, exploding in abject disgust in her native Quechan with the shameless men around her is a magnificent tour de force which resonates all the more because there are no subtitles. (Let’s hope well-meaning distributors don’t translate this pivotal diatribe, thus ruining the metaphor that her oppressors can neither hear or understand her plight.)
Sadly, so like real life, there are no winners in Magallanes, but it’s a story that needs to be experienced even as its sequels continue to play out daily all over the globe.