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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – The Glass Coffin

My notes on the Spanish film El Ataúd di Cristal (The Glass Coffin). NB: serious spoiler warning – this discusses the big twist.

Amanda (Paola Bontempi), a successful actress, steps into a cavernous high-tech limousine about five times more ridiculously luxurious than the one in Cosmopolis … only to find that she’s sealed in a sleek, ingenious trap.  A sinister, distorted voice taunts her and – briefly – a masked chauffeur makes his way back into the compartment to bludgeon her with a baton.  The three screens show excerpts from Dryland, the film which made her reputation, and it emerges that an unknown avenger is targeting her because of the stroke of engineered good fortune which vaulted her ahead of rivals to land the gig … while the lookalike actress originally slated for the role went down in the world and suffered through the making of Drythighs, the porn version of her breakout movie (Thighland would have been wittier, subtitlers).

 

This brief, single-set suspense item is fairly seamy, subjecting its lead character (and player) to humiliation and abuse as spectacle – a tactic that rather undercuts its criticism of the exploitation of women in a casting couch-led entertainment industry.  The mystery voice forces Amanda to audition for another porno, telling her to play the role of a cocaine-addled whore, and the struggle of wills – which becomes even more grotesque when the arch-enemy reveals a (distorted) human face – doesn’t really have anywhere much to go.  Bontempi holds the screen solo for almost all the film, but her character isn’t especially well-defined – we know too little about Amanda before she settles into her ordeal, so there’s no sense that she’s an innocent with inner resources or a monstrous diva who learns humility though suffering, and she never gets to use her acting skills against her opponent.  The interior of the car is more like the lifepod of a Jupiter-bound spaceship, with its rasping control voice, multiple lights and gadgets and form-fitting chairs.  The heroine can’t really stand up, and director/co-writer Haritz Zubillaga has to struggle to find interesting angles as things go from bad to worse for her.

 

This is yet another film in which a woman is tortured for 75 minutes  – it may be that I’ve just lost patience with this sort of thing, but I can’t see any particular new angle here.  Spoiler: the other actress is also played by Bontempi, with makeup to suggest the last stages of a wasting disease – compounding the treatment of women with an attitude to the ill that harks back to the 1940s, when Rondo Hatton and others played villains whose inner evil was writ large on their mangled faces (Hatton didn’t even have a choice about it).  Bontempi clearly gets more of a work-out when she’s facing against herself, which adds to the closed-in claustrophobia during another 1940s throwback suspense device as the car slowly fills with water.  Co-written by Aitor Eneriz.

 

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  1. Pingback: FrightFest 2017 – Complete Review Round-Up | The Kim Newman Web Site - August 29, 2017

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