The Uncertain Guest

The Uncertain Guest


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

One of the most overused terms in film criticism has to be 'Hitchcockian'. Too often it serves as a convenience for the lazy reviewer, a kind of short-hand that inhibits a proper recognition and appreciation of other film-makers. I mean, how often do you hear a film being described as, say, Langian?

It's a pleasant surprise, then, to see a film that's described as Hitchcockian actually measure up to the label, not so much through opening with an ersatz Bernard Herrmann score and Saul Bass titles reminiscent of the director's greatest period, welcome though these may be, but for showing a keen understanding of Hitchcock's characteristic themes, like doubling, voyeurism and the transference of guilt, and of how to deploy even a seemingly minor detail - in this case a brief excerpt from a nature documentary that the protagonist, Felix, catches on television one night - to ultimately telling effect.

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The documentary is, after all, on birds, one of Hitchcock's signifiers of chaos. And, more than this, it's about the way in which the first neonate to emerge from its egg in this particular species immediately moves to force the other eggs out of the nest, so that they fall to the ground and shatter. In other words, it's about territorial defence and self-preservation...

Felix, an architect, lives in a large modern house, adapted to his own specifications. He's also alone now that his long-time girlfriend Vera has left him. He doesn't really understand why - especially when her new apartment is so small - and the strain of living alone soon gets to him, as he starts to think that someone else is also there.

After a while Felix's suspicions are proved true as he shoots an intruder and locks them in. But, too panicked to go to the authorities - who have, in any case, already proven less than effectual in classic Hitchcock style - he leaves the house. A chance encounter takes him to another house much like his own, inhabited by wheelchair user Claudia. Not knowing what to do and finding something about her strangely fascinating, Felix decides to hide out in her house, thus beginning the cycle again but with his role reversed...

Scripted and directed by Guillem Morales, The Uncertain Guest/El Habitante Incierto is the kind of debut feature that encourages you to believe that cinema does have a future. Other than the contrivance inherent in the form - a contrivance that Hitchcock himself never really managed to completely solve, if his complaints against the plausiblists in his interviews with Truffaut are anything to go by - there's really nothing to criticise.

Andoni Gracia and Monica Lopez are utterly convincing, the latter's achievement all the more remarkable given her double role as the very different Vera and Claudia, the look and feel spot on and the editing, camera placements, movements and composition spot on.

While I'd still probably place Dario Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage marginally above The Uncertain Guest in the best Hitchcockian debut feature category - if such doesn't exist, I've just created it - for bringing Lang and Antonioni into the equation and featuring that gallery sequence, make no mistake that The Uncertain Guest is a phenomenally good film that hopefully heralds the arrival of a major new talent.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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The Uncertain Guest packshot
A man in an isolated house admits a stranger, then doesn't know whether or not he's gone.

Director: Guillem Morales

Writer: Guillem Morales

Starring: Andoni Gracia, Mónica López, Francesc Garrido, Agustí Villaronga, Minnie Marx

Year: 2004

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain


Viva 2007
EIFF 2006

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