Painless (Insensibles) Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Released by Les Films d'Antoine / Tobina Film / Fado Filmes
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina
Written by Juan Carlos Medina & Luiso Berdejo
2013, 100 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
UK Premiere on 23rd August 2013
Àlex Brendemühl as David
Tómas Lemarquis as Berkano
Ilias Stothart as Benigno niño
Derek de Lint as Dr. Holzmann
Ramon Fontserè to Dr. Carcedo
This long-awaited, Spanish-language debut feature from Carlos Juan Medina presents a powerful and heart-rending dual-story that fictionally scrutinizes the painful consequences that surfaced from a disrupted Civil War Spain.
In two interweaving stories, one tale set during the Spanish Civil War sees a young boy amidst a group of peculiar children who are sectioned and used as experimental subjects in a prison because they are incapable of feeling pain, while the other takes place decades later in the present time and follows a surgeon trace his family history to try and save himself from a fatal disease.
Writer Luiso Berdejo ([Rec], Quarantine, [Rec 3]) channels the contrasting stories through David’s journey to dig into his family’s past, coupled with intermittent flashbacks of the Spanish war conveying the context. Berdejo to and fros between the two until they eventually cross paths, making this sophisticated and allegorical storytelling an ambitious project for the first-time Spanish director.
But it’s the first scene in which Medina proves his capability; in the pre-cred sequence two young girls play nonchalantly with fire as one is ablaze and unknowingly catches the mortal other alight. It’s a chilling sequence and one that immediately establishes Medina’s haunting and dramatic tone for the rest of film. The somewhat bright and familiar scenes of the present provide a striking balance to the more disturbing and poignant settings of the other, allowing stark but fluid transitions.
The tragedies that unfold during the War invasion are the more enticing and dramatic of the two, and are emblematic of the true horror stories in history that took place during the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Its delineation bears a salient likeness to Del Toro’s masterful accounts through the eyes of a child who is the victim of child abuse or experiencing a lurid youthful struggle – something that has become much missed since the Spanish auteur has seemingly departed his trademark. The identity of the professor who tries to understand the children’s condition shines a light on the opposing theories and unregulated treatment of pre-World War II medical science, while the psyche of the imprisoned boy and affected persons is positioned as the definitive and direct result.
The performances by all are solid, and a dignified precedent is set on the psychological states of each character. Sorrowful expression, a sickening desperation to forget and the consequences of secret pasts shape the majority of the characters, and their connections with one another and to the prison are central to the story. With a running time of 100 minutes, and considering many modern day pictures don’t hold back to break the 2 hour mark, a lengthier commitment to the character development of the significant adults wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless, its operatic silences are consuming, and these are the places in the stories that rightfully receive the most deliberation. Painless transitions from one abhorrent, nightmarish environment to the next, but Medina excels in creating an aesthetically pleasing picture, the cinematography of the brash surroundings the most strangely beautiful and delicate of its kind.
Digging deep to evoke every emotion, Painless defiantly upholds its sincerity in a complex series of powerful and melancholic scenes, peaking in its most theatrical and operatic moments. A fine and exemplary, carefully crafted work of art, Medina executes emotionally-charged scenes from the first to the last, time and time again, in what can only be described as a remarkable modern masterpiece.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.