by Mel Valentin
SCREENED AT THE 2006 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In Argentinean director Marcelo Piñeyro's "The Grönholm Method," seven, presumably qualified business types are invited for a final interview to the offices of their future employer. The employer puts all seven applicants in a room, one table, and seven computer screens. Unsure how to proceed, one applicant suggests the final examination is already underway. He even has a name for it, the Grönholm Method, apparently imported from the cutthroat world of American corporations. Each character will be tested on how they react and interact to each other, but they will be also given the opportunity to vote other applicants from the room.With this kind of premise, viewers can be forgiven for immediately thinking of "Survivor," the reality television series that, for better or for worse, has revolutionized programming. Viewers can be also forgiven if other similarly premised films come to mind, e.g., Cube, Saw II. Although the potential was certainly there to go the survival horror route, pitting increasingly paranoid characters against each other, with the requisite violent spree to draw the storyline to a close, The Grönholm Method takes a more psychological, if ultimately, unsatisfying direction than a splatter film would. There's no bloodletting to speak of, just egocentric, driven opportunists finding ways to undermine each other's chances for success.
"Doesn't quite overcome its stage origins, but it comes close."
The seven characters, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), the ostensible lead, Nieves (Najwa Nimri), Carlos' former love interest, Fernando (Eduard Fernández), a hard-driving ex-military type who favorably describes himself as "Iberian macho," Ricardo (Pablo Echarri), another suit, but with a secret that could take him out of the running, Enrique (Ernesto Alterio), as much an opportunist as the others, but more weak-willed and easily manipulated as well, Ana (Adriana Ozores), the only other woman, older than Nieves, but just as driven to succeed, and Julio (Carmelo Gómez), whose past contains a secret that also jeopardizes his chance to win the job. There's one more character thrown into the mix, Montse (Natalia Verbeke), the innocent-in-appearance-only secretary.
From the start, Piñeyro introduces the characters as they prepare for their final interview, from home to the antiseptic offices of the Dekia Corporation (we never actually learn what Dekia produces). Piñeyro uses and abuses split screens to move between the characters, catch them from overlapping angles, or show snippets of TV reports about anti-globalization protests scheduled for that morning near Dekia's offices. Once in the conference room, the characters leave only for bathroom breaks or when they're eliminated from the competition. As the computer screens light up, one or more characters are given notes. First up, identifying whom, if anyone among the applicants, is a mole planted by the company. The notes take them through several other tests, including picking a leader, revealing key information about one character (at which point, the six other applicants have to decide whether he should be hired by the company), and who should be eliminated in case of a nuclear disaster.
As expected, characters are eliminated, leaving two applicants to out-compete each other for the job. Who gets eliminated is easy to guess, based on lines of dialogue, prominence within shots and shot selection, and the actors playing the roles (the bigger the name, the less likely he or she will be eliminated from the competition or the film). The Grönholm Method goes nowhere unexpected and instead depends on psychological manipulation (a good thing) and sexual stereotypes (not so good) to select the "winner." And, before it goes unmentioned, as the drama unfolds inside the company's offices, outside the anti-globalization protests pick up in force. Unfortunately, the protests are just background, having little relevance to the outcome of The Grönholm Method, except to show the audience how oblivious the characters inside are to the protesters concerns.
If The Grönholm Method sounds like it was written as a play, that's because it was. The Grönholm Method was based on a play of the same name by Jordi Galcerán and adapted for the screen by Mateo Gil. Gil's screenplay doesn't do much to open up the play for film, but Piñeyro certainly does everything he can to make the audience forget they're watching a film version of a play, using constant camera movement, quick edits, and reframing to keep the audience visually engaged during extended dialogue scenes. Outside of several scenes set inside the bathrooms and the opening, split-screen scene that introduces the characters, all the action takes place inside the conference room.Despite Piñeyro's efforts, the strain shows at times, but there's also another problem, this time based in the source material: all seven characters are currently employed elsewhere. Dekia offers them career advancement and, presumably, more money, but the storyline would have gained in urgency if the characters had all been downsized or laid, making them more desperate to win the competition. Losing might mean a loss in self-esteem and dignity, but the losers can still return to their upper-middle class lives and wait for the next opportunity for advancement. Likewise with an ending that depends on the last two applicants working at cross-purposes. The competition, like "The Grönholm Method," ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12934&reviewer=402
originally posted: 04/24/06 15:51:40