Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zulo (Hole)

Right. Zulo. Hmm...

Zulo is, despite being clever, intriguing, mysterious and a whole host of other good adjectives, at it's heart a 77 minute long short-film.

For reasons I've never entirely understood, we don't seem to have much of a tradition of short-films in the UK (or the US as far as I know). Sure, there are handfulls of short-films screened at film festivals but compared to the Spanish, we're a bit thin on the ground in the short film category. Just google cortomentraje to see the wealth of - often free-to-watch- Spanish language websites devoted entirely to the short-film. It's a difference that's even reflected in the language; in English we say short-film, implying a mini version of a 'real' film, whilst in Spanish the words cortomentraje and largomentraje are given equal standing. Each exists in it's own right, rather than one being a diminished form of the other. (As an interesting aside, the same happens in literature: the Spanish have cuentos and novelas whilst we only manage story/novel and short-story/novella)

With the cultural differences out the way, the puzzling aspect about Zulo is that, by rights, it ought to be a short film. To summarise the plot briefly (it can only be brief): a man awakes to find himself in a hole. He is kept there, fed but imprisoned by two monosyllabic balaclava-sporting captors.

That's more or less it.

It's decidedly well done; the cinematography is never less than beautiful, it's claustrophobic and intense and you can really feel for Manuel as he slowly goes mad, desperately trying to keep hold of his physical condition (running in circles around his tiny prison) and cling to his sanity. Jaime Garcia Arija is fantastic as the imprisoned Manuel and, generally, it's hard to find fault with the film.

Except for there being 77 minutes of it.

I feel ungrateful for moaning about this - I definitely enjoyed it as a whole - but it was simply too long for the content. With a few of the endless broodingly slow scenes clipped, this would be a tense and brilliant psychological thriller I'd recommend without hesitation. As it is, it's merely good. Damn with faint praise, yes, but still worth a watch if you've got a quiet hour and a bit.

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