by Alfonso Rivera
- The real tidal wave, loyally reconstructed to show how it devastated many families. The camera follows one of them. The audience shares in their worry, pain, search, and hope.
Should we cry in the cinema? How far, emotionally speaking, should a film go? Isn't the seventh art emotion, laughter, and tears? The debate is embodied in The Impossible [+see also:
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
film profile], a great Spanish production by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage [+see also:
film profile]), a colossal undertaking that Apache Entertainment - a production company of international ambition as shown by this production and its others like Intruders [+see also:
interview: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
film profile] - embarked on years ago and that has finally been released in cinemas, amid great expectations of it devastating both the box office and the mood of even its most respectable viewer.
Technically, The Impossible is impeccable and its entire team should be applauded. From the moment the lights go out, the audience is plunged into a nightmare recreated right to the very last detail. Particularly brilliant are the special effects that -- fortunately for their credibility -- are mostly not digital, and the sound effects. The first still photos, a foretaste of the disaster to come, plunge us into the screen's darkness, harshly punctuated by the sound of a rough and menacing sea.
The plot follows a family who arrives in Thailand to spend Christmas and, like the rest of the coastline, is suddenly caught up by a tidal wave that violently separates them. On one side are the mother (Naomi Watts) and the oldest son (a magnificent Tom Holland), and on the other are the father (Ewan McGregor) and the two younger sons. In just a few minutes, paradise has taken a fatal turn and transformed itself into the cruelest of hells, in which survival in unsure. The rest of the film recounts the main characters' constant search for each other to bring back together this family devastated by a giant wave.
Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez - who also wrote the script for The Orphanage - has remained loyal to the tale of María Belón, the Spanish woman on whom Naomi Watts' character is based, when writing this story that brazenly privileges dramatic emotions over subtlety. One has to be a rock, a plant, a piece of furniture even, not to cry during some of the most powerful scenes in this huge drama that unfortunately thousands of people experienced, most without the film's main characters' -- good -- fortune.
Both screenwriter and director do their best so that the ride is as rough for you as it is for the main characters, of whom you barely know anything as the tsunami breaks out shortly after the beginning of the film. As such, empathy for them is a little forced, but with the help of an omnipresent melodramatic soundtrack -- unnecessary for such a tremendous topic - the spectator is overcome by this extreme emotional experience. A particularly corny scene - in which Geraldine Chaplin appears -- is worthy of the worst Spielberg, he who critics accuse of being a sentimental manipulator.
Suspense is limited as the audience knows, shortly after the tragedy happens, that all the members of the family are alive, thus removing the mystery and tension from the search. But, as says Bayona (Barcelona, 1975), his intention was to show all aspects, actions, and consequences after the disaster, without neglecting any of them, in the style of a reportage following the members of a family that, after surviving the horror, was never the same again.
(Translated from Spanish)