Saturday, December 15, 2012

SCN: Whew! Nazis, Commies, doctors and weird kids combine for history and horror in the Juan Carlos Medina shocker, PAINLESS

Yikes -- movies don't come much weirder than PAINLESS, from director and co-writer (with Luiso Berdejo) Juan Carols Medina, during the viewing of which you are bound to ask yourself, "How in hell did they come up with a story like this?!" Jumping off from a dark night in the woods, as a little girl plays with fire in a most extraor-dinary way, to a group of Spanish children who somehow are unable to feel any physical pain (the official medical term, I believe, is congenital analgesia), the movie jumps back in forth in time between present-day Spain and that country in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, as it slowly connects past and present, coming up with a story that, for horror aficionados -- as unusual and well-executed as it is, this shocking film has too-high a creep quotient to recommend to general film-goers -- is a don't-miss movie.

If the person who feels no pain brings to immediate mind that beefy blond step-brother of the heroine of the Steig Larsson novels/
movies, forget about him. The guy's a typical fictional creation/cliche compared to the kids here, one of them in particular who grows up to become a character called Berkano (played by the fabulous -- in all meanings of that word -- Tómas Lemarquis, of Noi the albino). In this, his first full-length film, Senor Medina, shown above, has played around with myth and history in a manner that can only make something like the Joseph Campbell stuff seem paltry. To compare Painless to the usual scary movie is like trying to equate a Grimm fairy tale with a Barbie story.

Despite the awful nature of what's on view, initially Medina weaves his tapestry of past and present together in a lovely, graceful way: at one moment a finger moves through a pool of blood (see photo at bottom) on a prison floor, scooping out a line that turns into a present day road along which our hero, David, is driving in his car.

David is played by another oft-seen star at Spanish Cinema Now, the versatile Àlex Brendemühl (above). After accidentally causing a car accident that killed his pregnant fiance (their prematurely born child was saved), this successful doctor suddenly finds himself on quest to discover his roots, save his own life and thus ensure that his son will have at least one living parent.

This will take our "hero" on a journey that dates back to the 1930s, and what he learns is something no one should have to find out about himself. As this bizarre tale unfolds, we see the absolute horror of the Spanish Civil War once again -- this time from both sides but with the inhuman hatred of the liberal left by the conservative right given new and even further disgusting meaning.

While the plot is certainly convoluted and extremely dark, it is never inaccessible. And though the strange children of the movie feel no pain, the viewer certainly will. This movie is up there with a classic like The Nameless (streamable on Netflix) in terms of bringing Spanish history, personality, religion and culture together with the horror film to create something that you don't want to watch but from which you simply cannot turn away. It's one lollapalooza of a movie -- for certain tastes only.  

Painless plays its last screening at the Walter Reade this evening, Saturday, December 15, at 9:45 pm as part of Spanish Cinema Now. Click here for tickets....

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