El Mar

"Very Good"

El Mar Review


Though brightly lit by the harsh Mallorcan sun, El Mar is a film of tremendous darkness, a troubling meditation on history and violence and sickness of both the body and the soul. Set during the difficult days of the Spanish Civil War and then ten years later in the first years after World War II, it considers the fates of three children of violence who grow into young adults without successfully processing all the horrors they've seen.

As children, Francisca, Ramallo, and Manuel witness seemingly random firing squads in their dirt-poor village. Members of their own families are killed before their eyes, and when another child taunts Ramallo, saying his father was a bad guy, Ramallo has no problem with killing the kid by bashing his head against a rock and then stabbing him in the throat for good measure.

Ten years later Francisca (Antònia Torrens), Ramallo (Roger Casamajor), and Manuel (Bruno Bergonzini) are reunited in the strangest of places: a Magic Mountain-like tuberculosis sanatorium. The fragile Manuel has been there for a while, and Francisca, now a nun, works there as a nurse with a passion for doing the laundry and ironing. Ramallo, with a swagger that suggests he's still as dangerous as he was as a boy, is a new arrival with instructions to stay for at least a couple of months.

Manuel, a devout Catholic, is troubled by Ramallo's reappearance because his boyhood crush immediately transforms into the kind of love God doesn't sanction. Ramallo, who exudes sexual power, seems to realize this and enjoys tormenting not only Manuel but also all the other TB patients in the ward. The X-rated stories of his sexual adventures get them all riled up.

Ramallo is also a black marketeer and the gay-for-pay boy toy of a much older man who runs a smuggling operation. He starts scheming to hijack incoming supplies of TB medicine, swearing Manuel to secrecy and opening the door to all kinds of danger.

When the blood flows in El Mar, it flows bright red against the white sheets and white walls of the sanatorium. And it flows a lot. TB victims cough up blood copiously in their death throes, Manuel's sexual panic turns into self-inflicted stigmata, and eventually Ramallo has a hatchet in hand as his criminal plots start to turn dangerous.

Director Agusti Villaronga keeps everything tight, claustrophobic, and just sickening enough so that you, too, feel like a patient in the clinic. Though the doors are open, the sanatorium feels inescapable, a prison of religion and secrets and sickness, where each day brings at least one bloody death. All three lead characters will find deliverance in a fashion, but it won't be pretty. Ramallo's final encounter with Manuel, in which he feels the need to express the sexual control he's always had, is memorable for its brutality.

The message is clear: Children learn the ways of the world early. They take the horrors they see in childhood with them into adulthood and express them in their own new horrific ways. It's a depressing concept, but it makes for interesting stories.

Aka The Sea.

See the sea.



El Mar

Facts and Figures

Run time: 107 mins

In Theaters: Friday 14th April 2000

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Agustí Villaronga

Producer: , Lluís Ferrando,

Contactmusic


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