The Hidden Face (Spanish: La cara oculta), 2011.
Directed by Andrés Baiz.
Starring: Martina García, Clara Lago and Quim Gutiérrez.
A Spanish orchestra conductor deals with the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend.
Trailers revealing too much in general is nothing new, but some go one step further and divulge a plot point or character trajectory so fundamental to your enjoyment of the film that you’re robbed of all surprise and discovery. The Hidden Face comes saddled with such a trailer, and while one should always remain sympathetic to the plight of any Spanish-language film that doesn’t come with Guillermo Del Toro’s stamp of approval, this is certainly one example of the less you know, the better.
We’re first introduced to Adrián (Quim Gutiérrez), and we watch as he looks despondently into the viewfinder of a digital camera – the recording is of his now ex-girlfriend, Belén (Clara Lago), explaining her reasons for leaving without saying goodbye. Inconsolable, Adrián heads out to a bar where he drinks himself into a stupor before being taken home by local waitress Fabiana (Martina García) after she takes pity on him. A romance is eventually kindled between Adrián and Fabiana, but not before she voices her reservations: “I bet you’re married, or have a girlfriend.” Any genre film of worth will usually have its viewers performing mental gymnastics for at least the first third as they try to guess (and second-guess) its intentions, and Fabiana’s concerns run parallel with the audience’s suspicions: is Belén alive? Is Adrián dangerous? It’s not long until those suspicions are amplified as the police pay Adrián and Fabiana a visit. It seems there is no record of Belén having left the country and so their investigation is reshaping and taking focus on Adrián. With the label of mystery having been earned we are then taken back in time to Adrián and Belén in happier times, and it’s here the film threatens to veer into horror.
So far, so typical, and if the only question posed was whether or not this brooding musical prodigy was responsible for the disappearance of his girlfriend then the film would have landed squarely within the realm of mediocrity. Instead, The Hidden Face proves itself to be nothing if not adaptable as it shifts both character and narrative focus in one fell swoop. Motivations for consequent actions are established given ample time to breathe – something which helps greatly ground the later twists and turns within the film. The film’s central conceit might have strained credulity if not for this world-building and character focus, and it’s easy to forget that The Hidden Face operates within a genre where logic is normally jettisoned entirely in favour of narrative whims. Indeed while over the course of its duration it flirts with multiple genres, this is a clear and concise vision with imagination taking precedence over catering to any audience’s preconceptions.
All three central leads rise to the challenge of the material, with Martina García in particular deserving of praise for managing to communicate everything from naïveté to recalcitrance with as few words as possible. The plot hinges entirely on her mental vicissitude at multiple points and the Colombian actress proves capable of doing so with humour, malice and empathy. Quim Gutiérrez’ performance as Adrián is somewhat of a blank slate, but this is primarily out of necessity to the script; allowing the audience to project their own sympathies or suspicions onto his seemingly disconsolate orchestra conductor. Clara Lago is also commendable as the third pillar of the film, with her character undergoing by far the most dramatic transformation while never straining credibility beyond petulant mistakes that are rationalised and rooted in character.
Andrés Baiz’ direction was always going to be the most important aspect in the realisation of The Hidden Face, and he wisely approaches the material (co-written by Baiz and Arturo Infante) with a level of gravity that helps sustain and amplify emotional investment. Federico Jusid’s score occasionally deviates into a bombast which sits uncomfortably between the relative mundanity of what we’re seeing and the operatic height of the character’s emotions, but is otherwise a welcome addition. The direction, cinematography and editing all help steer the film away from its B movie genesis and elevate it to something capable and worthy of eliciting sympathy. The Hidden Face is a triumph of ingenuity, one open to an audience much wider than its genre would have you believe – just don’t watch the trailer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★