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Comunidad, La
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by Jay Seaver

"Outwit thy neighbor."
5 stars

The first thing one notices about "La Comunidad" is the eye-catching title sequence. I, personally, think that the Oscars should have an category to recognize a great set of opening credits (call it the Saul Bass Award), and further feel that if they did, Alex de la Iglesia's films would regularly be contenders. The stark, red-tinted stills of Carmen Maura and the accompanying shrieks set an ominous mood, but the way they move back and forth across the screen implies that de la Iglesia's trademark wit will be in supply.

Ms. Maura plays Julia, a middle-aged realtor showing an apartment in Madrid. The building appears kind of run-down and there's no parking, but inside it's fantastic. She invites her husband over to make use of it while she has the keys, the ceiling cracks open, and an investigation of the apartment above uncovers a rotting corpse in a disgusting environment. Further investigation uncovers a fortune in cash. But while finding the money may not have taken much effort, getting it out of a building filled with suspicious neighbors is something altogether more difficult.

Julia is no heroine; she's as selfish and conniving as anyone else in the movie, but we can root for her because she (at least initially) is a mere opportunist, with nothing particularly premeditated about her misdemeanors. She's probably too old to be described as "plucky" but not so old as to have stopped dreaming, even if her husband's sense of adventure is as frustratingly dormant as his libido. She's no kind of master criminal, but Ms. Maura gives us a sense of both the character's panic and her resolve, and it helps us get into her corner.

There's a nifty Ira Levin feel to the apartment's other inhabitants - some are peculiar individually, especially a guy who hangs around his apartment in a full Darth Vader costume, but most seem normal enough, if not terribly gregarious. When aggregated, though, the community as a whole is downright unnerving. It's a classic set-up, with an outsider shoved into a society she doesn't understand, with no help immediately available because of the insular nature of the place and her own less-than-legitimate standing. de la Iglesia and regular co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria use it to crank the tension up while putting in plenty of humor.

Another set of filmmakers might have been tempted to make a political allegory out of this; it'd be, perhaps, the European thing to do. You can find such themes if you want to look. A theme of oppression, perhaps, or people from outside the community plundering the poor natives. You can play with the idea that democracy becomes tyranny when "majority rules" is the only moral principle. These filmmakers, though, appear to understand that films can collapse under too much metaphor, and when it comes down to brass tacks, La Comunidad isn't about making a statement, but about delivering thrills and just enough laughs to surprise. The rooftop chase that makes up much of the final act, for instance, has no ideology, but is tautly constructed, with some fantastic helicopter shots and a genuine sense that these people, who are not used to chasing or being chased, could in fact fall a great distance to their deaths at any moment.

The end result is maybe not as incisive or insightful as it could be, but it is pretty darn exciting, which for my money is far more important. That's not to imply it's a stupid movie, just that it's more interested in straight-on thrills and twisted comedy than satire.

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originally posted: 01/15/06 03:11:03
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  02-Mar-2000 (R)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2005



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