Monday, May 9, 2016

You think U.S. health care is bad? Here comes Rodrigo Plá's A MONSTER WITH 1,000 HEADS

Who'd have thought there would be a movie to make us grateful for our own expensive-but-puny, let's-put-the-insurance-companies-first health care plan. But, hey, here it is, and it's a humdinger from Mexico. A MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS, written by Laura Santullo and directed  by Rodrigo Plá, may be the first ever "health care thriller," complete with kidnapping, gun-play, suspense and violence. And yet -- and this is what makes the movie so especially terrific -- it is first and always about doing everything that one can to get the heath care needed so that a spouse can survive.

The movie is simplicity itself. It runs but 74 minutes, and once it grabs you (give it about seven of those minutes), it will not let go. You'll hold on for dear life, while knowing that this cannot have a good outcome and yet also understanding that you would do the same thing, were you in this situation and had you the balls to persevere. Señor Plá (shown at left), an Uruguayan raised in Mexico, and Ms Santullo often work together. Their best-known film is probably La Zona, though I suspect it will now be this "monster" movie, in which the monster is Mexico's health-care system, together with its insurance companies who evidently are still able to declare things like "pre-existing conditions" (getting rid of that was perhaps the greatest triumph of Obamacare).

Cut off one of that monster's heads, over and over again, as does our heroine, Sonia -- an angry, memorable performance by Jana Raluy -- and another head immediately pops up. We see this from the initial scenes on the telephone and then in the doctor's office, and this hydra-headed creature only grows stronger and more subversive by the time we get to the upper echelon power brokers, most especially regarding the single member of the insurance company's "board" whom we finally meet.

Everything here, from the dialog and direction to the performances, seems almost on the point of improvisation, and yet the movie is too well-crafted for that. But its combination of speed and impassioned reality make it appear to be unfurling as it goes along.

All the performances are smart and believable, but it is Ms Ralu and the young man, Sebastián Aguirre Boëda (shown above, right, and below), who plays her son, Dario, with just the right degree of teen-age suspicion, anger and buried love who most bring the movie to fruition. The filmmakers combine present-moment visuals with occasional voice-over of what clearly sounds like a trial being held, with witnesses giving their testimony, so that we are aware that all this has indeed reached a conclusion, though we only gradually learn what has happened and what this might mean.

While much that is shown here is of course specific to Mexico, there is plenty with which U.S. viewers will easily and angrily identify -- especially regarding how stacked is the deck against the working class people who pay for their too-often-worthless "health care." This is a movie that will leave you seething. And properly so. Let's hope it did some good in its native country of Mexico.

A Monster With a Thousand Heads, from Music Box Films, opens this Wednesday, May 11, in New York City at Film Forum and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. and on Friday, May 20, it will hit Los Angeles (at Landmark's NuArt) and Boston (at Landmark's Kendall Square). Over the following weeks and months will reach many other cities. Click here and then click on THEATERS to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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