THE REALM (El Reino). Starting: Antonio de la Torre, Monica Lopez, and Maria de Nati. Also, Josep Maria Pou, and Barbara Lennie. Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen. Rated M (Coarse language and violence). 131min.
This subtitled Spanish thriller tells the story of a Spanish politician whose illegal conduct compromises Government - especially so, when a newspaper exposes him publicly. The film won seven awards at the 2018 Goya Awards in Spain, including awards for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
An ambitious Spanish politician, Manuel Lopez-Vidal (Antonio de la Torre), is a senior member of Spain’s governing party. He is regional vice-secretary of his party, and he lives a high-class life-style with his wife, Ines (Monica Lopez), and teenage daughter, Nati (Maria de Nati). His family, however, is ignorant of the details of all he has been doing for the last 15 years. Accompanying Manuel’s extravagant life-style, is a long history of corruption and fraud. He has become adept at accumulating wealth by any unethical, or illegal means. When he is arraigned for corruption, he warns his friends to stay silent, hoping that the absence of incriminating evidence will solve his problems. When the newspaper goes public, it does so with personal conversations that have been recorded of his boasting about his exploits: his political reputation is ruined; his colleagues scramble to take cover; and it is all happening, as the country prepares for an election.
The film deals with corruption at the highest level. It doesn’t judge corruption, as much as it focuses on an adept politician’s determined resolve to survive. It holds its force by exploring intensely, and intimately, what a corrupt politician will do to save his reputation. The film basically highlights one politician’s obsession to hold onto power at any cost.
The tension that is established by Manuel’s predicament escalates as the film progresses, until the viewer thinks it can’t get any tighter. The film argues explicitly that corruption in Spanish politics is a matter of organised crime at work, and it focuses on an immoral world that is created intentionally.
This is not a film about redemption from wrong-doing. It exposes the viewer to how politicians can be easily corrupted; how they come to rejoice in their wrong-doings; and how they will do anything to preserve their misuse of power. Finding himself shunned by his party after he has been publicly exposed, Manuel decides to take revenge, and the violence that follows is psychological, as much as it is physical.
This is a political thriller of enormous force. Antonio de la Torre’s acting portrays brilliantly an arrogant member of the ruling class, who has no qualms about behaving indecently. His acting dominates the movie. There is excellent acting also from the film’s supporting cast. The film’s scripting is well-crafted, and the dialogue is rapid-fire. Political Board meetings have never looked as cut-throat.
The direction of the movie by Rodrigo Sorogoyen holds the tension tautly, and the cinematography tracks the movie’s characters tellingly. The movie moves with a restless pace that is reinforced by a pulsing (though heavy) musical score. The film tells us that not only Spanish politics are unethical, but raises questions at the deepest level about the nature of the society in which other Governments thrive. The theme of power associated with corruption and criminal activity is communicated as the expected norm for any good politician’s behaviour.
This is a chilling movie about corruption, power, and political revenge, that moves in a fast-paced style which vibrantly portrays deeply troubling features of real-world politics that are implied to exist elsewhere. The film fades out with challenging, and intriguing, questions about the role of the media in corrupt political systems, and the power groups and corporations that lie behind them. This film is an edge-of-the-seat political thriller that shouldn’t be missed.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released May 16, 2019