A esmorga: An alcohol-fuelled descent into Hell
by Alfonso Rivera
- This dank, tense nightmare, gutsily directed by Ignacio Vilar and starring a magnificent trio of actors, is finally landing in theatres around Spain after proving to be a hit in its homeland, Galicia
A esmorga [+see also:
film profile] (lit. “The Gambol”) is certainly not misleading. Right from its opening scene, we start to breathe in its unwholesome atmosphere, and the tension that will pervade it for the rest of its duration is palpable… and then it will get even tenser. A man is talking. He’s not at his best. His words filled with apprehension, his frightened expression and the terrible fear he exhibits give us a few clues about his descent into darkness, which will be portrayed by a flashback (taking up the entire running time) – a voyage on which we, the unsuspecting audience, will accompany him.
The fifth movie by Orense-born Ignacio Vilar (produced by Vía Láctea Filmes) is not one of those titles that you forget five minutes after the closing credits. A esmorga slowly drenches you, like the intermittent rain that appears on screen, that kind of water that, in Galicia, never ceases to demand all your attention not only in the air, but also, violently, on the ground. It is that dampness that reeks of death, sweat, mud, repression, halitosis, violence, filth and putrefaction. With this intrepid film, we will take a trip to rural Spain under the yoke of the Franco regime, a subdued, poor and furious country, whose inhabitants attempt to break free from these harmful conditions by making their neighbour suffer – a neighbour who is in an equally dire situation.
Based on the powerful novel by Eduardo Blanco Amor (adapted by Vilar and Carlos Asorey, nominated for their work at the most recent Goya Awards), which Gonzalo Suárez already brought to the big screen in 1977 under the title Binge, starring the trio of revellers José Luis Gómez, José Sacristán and Antonio Ferrandis, A esmorga manages to place itself on a par with those geniuses thanks to the spirited performances by Miguel de Lira, Karra Elejalde and Antonio Durán "Morris". The Galician-language movie puts its hand on our shoulder and shoves us on a spree lasting 24 frenzied hours, with three animals who never stop drinking, eating, fornicating (or trying to), singing, making a huge mess, and leaving a trail of destruction and chaos.
In a very organic way, Vilar’s camera takes full advantage of the various Galician settings where A esmorga was shot. There are no picture postcards for tourists here, but rather the nightmarish and gloomy path of mildewed rocks – be it that of a country house, a brothel or a sleazy bar – which, in a total reversal of its role in the Land of Oz, leads these three scoundrels into the heart of darkness.
The vigour displayed by Vilar, which boasts a real dramatic eloquence, reaches breaking point when a group of men sing a traditional song: this highly strung but by no means hysterical performance infects us with the pressing need to get drunk, and to enjoy what little good stuff life has to offer to a bunch of guys who hurry to and fro every minute of the day as though there were no tomorrow.
This tragicomedy is interspersed with Zeltia Montes’ serene piano, which instead of making us more relaxed, in contrast with what we see, succeeds in unsettling us, and we end up sensing that these three characters – the one who dreams of the perfect woman, the repressed homosexual and the horny lothario who cannot seem to get his life back on track – are all, deep down, just like us: miserable victims of a time and a place that they have had the misfortune to endure, and which, through this mother of all binges, they are trying to escape from. The most terrible thing is that the way out could lead to the shit heap.
(Translated from Spanish)