The Realm

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Realm
"The writers start from a place where the screw is already turned and, just when you think they can't get it any tighter, find new ways to increase the tension - matching their torque with action." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Antonio de la Torre reigns over The Realm as he has so many Spanish language films in recent years, the intensity of his performance matching the magnetism of the character he plays here, Manuel López-Vidal, a thrusting and corrupt politician whose upward trajectory is about to take a spiral in the opposite direction.

When it comes to generating tension, Rodrigo Sorogoyen and his co-writer Isabel Peña - collaborating here for the third time and with a fourth feature, Madre, in the works - start from a place where the screw is already turned and, just when you think they can't get it any tighter, find new ways to increase the tension - matching their torque with action.

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The opening is a case in point. Cinematographer Alejandro de Pablo tracks Manuel - a technique that will be used repeatedly - as he concludes a phone conversation, enters a restaurant through the back and briskly walks through the kitchen, his movements purposeful, the soundtrack increasingly intense. Along the way, he's handed a plate of shell-on prawns which ultimately presents, as he strides into the restaurant, to a table of waiting politicos. They're talking 19 to the dozen, a fact that may initially be disconcerting for non-Spanish speakers, suddenly confronted by a gaggle of people they may or may not have to remember individually.

Fears of confusion are soon laid to rest as we see this is just a backdrop for the action, quickly clueing us in to their position - high on the hog thanks to a slick money laundering operation - and with a careless decadence that speaks to their power. Although the setting is specifically Spain - and draws on the country's history of political skulduggery - the themes of power turning sour through corruption and criminal enterprises prepared to sacrifice anyone to protect themselves are universal.

Manuel - a regional vice-president - is on the verge of big-time national politics and when a leaked tape punctures his ambition, he is a man with a plan - even if it might not be a good one. As he finds himself trying to outmanoeuvre both the law and his own party, we stay with him as Sorogoyen creates conflict in us too, compromised by our desire to see this anti-hero come out on top. This sense of complicity in crime is nothing new - take The Godfather, for example - but there's something more chilling about this because of the film's governmental setting, not very far removed from real world politics.

As in May God Forgive Us, Sorgoyen and Peña increase the tension by suddenly thrusting into new environments towards the film's climax, as alien to us as they are to Manuel. Firstly we're transported to a millennials' house party, where Manuel finds himself in a psychological game of 'who will blink first' with the daughter of one of his former cohorts, then into a full action film car chase before ending in a TV studio, which is no less tense for its sedate confines. Although the plot is complex, the strong performance from de la Torre, bolstered by excellent acting all round from the large ensemble cast, and pacy direction from Sorogoyen, smooth and speed us over any bumps in the road.

This is the sort of film that could easily be scooped up for a Hollywood remake and set against a Whitehall or White House backdrop - but don't wait for that, vote for the original.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2018
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Manuel, an influential deputy secretary of an regional government who has everything going his way, finds himself fighting for survival when news of his involvement in a corruption ring leaks out.


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