In a Glass Cage - Cult Epics
Written by Ray Casta   
Saturday, 12 January 2008

"In a Glass Cage" DVD Cover - Severed Cinema

AKA: Tras el cristal
Directed by: Agustí Villaronga
Written by: Agustí Villaronga
Produced by: Teresa Enrich
Cinematography by: Jaime Peracaula
Music by: Javier Navarrete
Cast: Günter Meisner, David Sust, Marisa Paredes, Gisèle Echevarría, Imma Colomer, Josue Guasch
Year: 1986
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish
Color: Color
Runtime: 108 minutes

Severed Cinema - DVD Logo
Video: NTSC R1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish (English Subtitles)
Distributor: Cult Epics
From the moment the film opens, we are plunged directly into an inescapable alcove of monstrosity: an image of a young boy in an abandoned, squalid building of some kind, beaten and entirely nude, hanging helplessly with both of his wrists securely chained above him.  Klaus (Gunter Meisner) is a middle-aged man, who takes photographs of him at a distance.  He raped and tortured the boy, and is a very sick man.  When he closely approaches him, pressed against the suspended body, he slowly brings himself to kiss him.  The boy's eyes open weakly, as Klaus moves behind him.  Now, picking up a dense block of wood, he swings it as hard as he can, striking and killing him.  From a reasonable remoteness, someone is spying on Klaus through a window in another building (clearly, this person witnessed the murder).  We never see who he/she is, but the person snatches a journal Klaus has carelessly discarded.  Before the opening credits, we observe Klaus in an extreme close up: he is bewildered and shocked, possibly from what he has become.  His reason for living became a question at this time.  We can tell from his haunted face and eyes he is plagued by the atrocities that he has witnessed and caused.  Guilt takes hold of his insuppressible desires, which results in him attempting suicide, plummeting from the building.  The attempt was unsuccessful, as he's now confined to an iron lung.  The iron lung is the only way he's able to breathe because his lungs were seriously destroyed from the fall.

We learn Klaus was a Nazi doctor, who did experiments on young children during the war, and his job turned into a chore and passion: he began to enjoy the pain he inflicted upon innocent children and although he hated himself for it, the feeling of joy overwhelmed him. Living in Catalonia with his wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes) and their daughter Rena (Gisela Echevarria), he is in serious need of an efficient, experienced nurse that can attend to him.  Enter the furtive, mysterious young man, Angelo (David Sust).  Although he has no nursing skills whatsoever, he meets with Klaus and he is hired on the spot.  Griselda, who believes deep down that it would have been better off if Klaus had died from the fall, discommends of him; he seems far too strange to her.  Angelo and Klaus develop a malignant relationship that involves psychological mind games, and sexual and physical violence.  There are moments where Angelo recites lines from the journal (we discover he was the unseen spectator in the beginning), cuts off the oxygen pumping inside of Klaus's chamber, brings back young boys to the house, and so on.  He was one of Klaus's past victims.  The relationship between him and Klaus only intensifies from the first time Klaus meets him; Villaronga's film makes “Apt Pupil” look like a Disney movie.  He wants to start where Klaus left off.

For a film that is interminably claustrophobic, shot predominantly in the confines of the house with only a few exteriors, the filmmaking is superb.  You wouldn't expect much style to be exercised in such confined interiors, but Villaronga distinctively refuses many bright colors in the process of the film, until the end, where the striking blue lighting is significant.  Once you see color in the film, you can bet that it is representative.  At the end, we see a shadow of a figure methodically moving towards the camera, until its face is revealed.  When we see the person up close, we then fully realize how Villaronga brought his vision in full circle, emphasizing and returning to the previous themes that he so carefully examined.  Without spoon-feeding us, the victims of the Holocaust can be glimpsed at merely by this innocent, solemn face -- followed by how a human being can become a monster, as well as their victims.  Since none of us will relate to these afflicted, unhinged characters, I think it is fascinating the most when we cannot possibly understand them.  Performances are meritorious for their cogent nuances, playing characters that are just as perplexed or petrified as they are aroused with pain and death because it's the one thing that they both know so well.  Both Klaus and Angelo were taught violence and after they have made their marks, with their power drained from them, the cycle will sadly persist.  Which is what I gathered from the ending: those trapped in the cycle never progress because what goes around will come around, then the cycle will repeat.

No rushing needs to be done with this story, as Villaronga allows the characters to develop fully so we can rightfully see them as human beings.  Piercing intensity and a chilling atmosphere is built in the process, and the camera moves as if it were in an Argento giallo.  Considered to be a horror film, it certainly is psychological, on another level that hasn't been attained by another director in its vision of hell.  The film, which definitely isn't for everyone, stands by itself.  Even those who can tolerate violence may find this unbearable.  While reading the plot, it sounds like it would be nothing more than disgusting exploitation, but these controversial issues (child abuse, fascism) are handled with care.  Themes are subtly handed, and Villaronga takes his time by telling us what one thing has to do with another.  It's our job to find what his imagery means; it's our job to read beyond the controversial subject matter and focus on the human side of it, which is handled in the way that would make Pier Paolo Pasolini proud.  Violence here is mainly shown off-screen, but the film is shocking for its complex psychology, not of any images of violence.

Recommending the film is hard.  On the cover, there is a quote from filmmaker John Waters and while he highly recommends it, he says he wouldn't ever show it to friends.  When you have a movie that will turn away jaded viewers from its themes and not its violence, you have something special.  The victim and his tormentor's perspectives are both told, and the characters that surround them are as well defined as they are.  Such as Griselda, who believes her husband should have died as result of the fall he took.  She contemplates killing him, perhaps feeling she would be even better off if Klaus wasn't in her life.  There is simply too much responsibility on her behalf, thus making her feel like a prisoner in her own home.  She accidentally unplugs the power cable to Klaus's iron lug after she trips and there is another time when she deliberately does so.  Both times, however, she doesn't wish to go through with it, which proves how complex the characterization is in Villaronga's screenplay; those who aren't necessarily good or bad have shades of both in them.  Even Rena is a central character, especially by the end.  She wasn't abused like Angelo was, but she's been exposed to it.  She has become a victim, not the way that Angelo is, but in a different way.  Her father is corrupted.  He wasn't with her or his wife during the war.  Instead, he was doing the job experimenting on children he was so skilled at.  Digesting the film was highly difficult because it was a challenge, which provoked me in thought with its repellent subject matter.  It provoked me so much that, although I wanted to further study the film, I couldn't revisit it too soon after the initial viewing.


-Interview with Director Agustin Villaronga

Although it isn't flawless, Culp Epic did a thorough job in the non-anamorphic transfer, with a 1.85:1 ratio. Photography of colors are significant in the film, and they are shown as vibrantly as possibly on the DVD. I've never seen the film on VHS, but I can only imagine how bad they were, grainy and fuzzy. What could have been much sharper were the black levels, which needed improvement. The audio is Spanish with English subtitles, and the subtitles are very easy to read. Not a lot of extras, to be honest, but you do get to see Villaronga discuss the film in a 10-minute interview. The DVD also includes a booklet, and that's about it. Nonetheless, the DVD is uncut and for that reason alone it is enough to have it in your collection.

VIDEO: 1.85:1 1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed CinemaNo Skull - Severed CinemaNo Skull - Severed Cinema
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish (English Subtitles) 1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed CinemaThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.No Skull - Severed Cinema




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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."