The Glass Coffin
Dressed for the occasion with an elegant evening dress, Amanda enters on a luxurious limousine waiting in front of her house. Suddenly the windows are tinted black, Amanda's cell phone is disabled and can not open any of the doors.
The tense Spanish import The Glass Coffin (El ataud de Cristal) won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Why, there were even some patrons attending the film’s North American premiere at the 4th Annual Filmquest Film Festival in Provo, Utah – who actually walked out.
I doubt it was a “quality” issue – as the film is beautifully shot and acted. I’d venture the subject matter and some of the events within the film might have been a bit much to tolerate.
But as I said to some friends following the screening – like so many design shows on channels like HGTV – when homeowners see a home renovation only about halfway through – they’ll complain that they’re unsure. “I can’t see it.” There’s doubt. There’s the usual convincing that “everything will be okay” and inevitably, when the final product it revealed, there’s generally ecstatic gasps mixed in with their sighs of relief.
Such is the case for The Glass Coffin – which walked away with several biggie awards at the aforementioned Filmquest Festival – including Best Feature Film, Best Director for Haritz Zubillaga, Best Lead Actress in a Feature for Paola Bontempi and The Minerva Award for Female Filmmaker (producer Norma Vila – for this project as well as the short film Jules D.)
The Glass Coffin was also nominated for Best Foreign Film, Best Feature Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound for a Feature and Best Makeup for a Feature.
Here’s a brief set-up (but not too much, for fear of those dreadful spoilers):
Successful film actress Amanda (in her Sunday best) is on her way to a prestigious awards show, to accept a lifetime achievement award. As she converses with her husband on the phone (who could not attend with her), she mindlessly enters a waiting limousine outside of her lavish home. Within minutes – it becomes clear that this limo has effectively locked her in and cut off her cell service. Shortly thereafter, a distorted voice begins to order her to do things. At first it seems to be a joke, but soon it will devolve into humiliation, manipulation and violence. And for Amanda – there is no escape as this solidly-built, decidedly locked and constantly moving vehicle is taking her… where?
The obvious highlight (the film is without a doubt, hers) is the performance from Paola Bontempi. The awarding of Best Lead Actress is pretty much a no-brainer – considering the depths she must go to deal with all that is thrown at Amanda. The performance runs the gamut – from a veteran and assured artist, to a cocky actress, to a frightened victim – and everywhere beyond and in-between.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick out a specific scene for Bontempi as my favorite (as I’m so fond of ranking things), because it’s a solid performance all the way through. Not one misstep. It’s oh-so good, and I would honestly consider it potentially Oscar-worthy. But of course, I can’t discuss one of the big reasons her work is so noteable.
I would have given a higher score (not that a 4-star out of 5 possible stars is something to abhor), but because of the central idea for the story – the reason that Amanda finds herself in this precarious and dangerous situation in the first place – felt a little flimsy to me.
Admittedly, when things wrap up in the final moments and the second part to the film’s “big reveal” happens – I softened a bit on that initial feeling of “that doesn’t quite work”. But that softening didn’t mean that I completely forgave this big problem.
I can’t chat it up, because I’m generally not in the business of spoilers, but I’d love to see what my avid readers of 3 (you’ll notice I’ve upgraded from 2) might think. Do you agree or disagree? Is this turn of events – and the reasons for Amanda’s “imprisonment” – do they ring true, or is it too much to ask of the audience? I thought so. Weigh in.
I am impressed with the film’s ability to keep things interesting in a one-location set-up. And although it’s a large car (a limo), it’s still pretty damn small. Director Zubillaga and his team managed to never feel repetitive. But what impressed me even more, is that it didn’t feel like they were trying to keep things lively, if that makes sense. They just told their story as if there were not a care in the world. It was natural, organic – and felt as if they didn’t even have to try to change up angles or be creative in the way they shot in this small space.
But again, the film is Bontempi’s. So despite the clever way things were shot – you weren’t paying much attention to technical details. It’s a character story, plain and simple.
The film is a spry 75 minutes, so there is not much down-time. Things get going pretty quickly, and then don’t let up at all. While the film was nominated for Best Editing in a Feature, it did not come out the winner. I would have given this a leg up on the film which did win. But that’s just me.
I will again warn that the film may not have nudity, but it does have sexual situations, extremely sexual language and eventually, sexual violence.
But as I mentioned above – stick it out. Don’t judge based on something which you will probably see coming. Wait for the final reveal. While the violence may be almost stomach-turning – the ending and the culmination of Amanda’s journey – will be worth it.
A detailed and deeply rich lead performance from Bontempi, a sleek production and creative camerawork – all conspire to make a solid thriller. But again – check out my reservation above.
I just didn’t quite buy the reason for all of this rigamarole. Almost – but not quite.
The Glass Coffin is continuing its festival run, including a showing at this year’s Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, California in October.