La Comunidad Review
La Comunidad (Common Wealth) stars Pedro Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura as Julia, a temp who works as a salesperson for an estate agent. Julia takes a liking to one of the flats that she is supposed to be selling and, as it is unoccupied, she decides to spend the evening there. Noticing a leak coming from the ceiling in the bedroom, she goes up to investigate and soon the occupants of the apartment building have called the fire brigade to break into the leaking flat. When the flat’s sole occupant is found dead, the other dwellers in the building seem strangely excited. When Julia finds the dead man’s wallet she discovers inside it a cryptic map that leads to his stash of money – which totals some 300 million pesetas.
Anybody who has seen Shallow Grave or A Simple Plan will know that coming across a large sum of money often leads to trouble and it is not long before Julia's new neighbours in the building start acting suspiciously and she realises that not only did they know about the money all along, but they are also well aware of who has it now.
Álex de la Iglesia's best-known film in the UK and US is probably Perdita Durango, a sequel of sorts to David Lynch's Wild at Heart. However, whereas Perdita Durango was a serious affair, Álex de la Iglesia more typically produces films laced with black comedy. His earlier film The Day of the Beast was a successful blend of horror and comedy and the same dark sense of humour is very much evident in La Comunidad.
As well as black comedy, Álex de la Iglesia's trademark oddball characters are also present, from a Cuban ladies' man dance instructor to a balding middle-aged mother's boy with a penchant for dressing as Darth Vader. All of the characters are performed with just the right balance of comic eccentricity and realism by the able supporting cast. Carmen Maura is of course as good as ever, and her performance here won her a Goya.
The film may contain modern characters, violence and language, but in terms of style and plot the film knowingly harks back to the days of Hitchcock and the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. The vintage-style comedy-thriller plot and the assortment of entertainingly eccentric characters combine to produce an enjoyable film with mainstream appeal that is also quirky enough to attract a more demanding audience, not unlike the works of the Coen brothers or Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Manga Film's Spanish release of La Comunidad is a two-disc Collector's Edition encoded for Region 2 only.
The anamorphic transfer presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The level of detail may not be up to the standards of the best releases, but the colours are bright and clear, the blacks are black and the level of shadow detail is good. Some film grain is present in the darker scenes, but otherwise the source print is free from flecks and scratches. There are no noticeable compression artefacts or signs of edge enhancement.
An unusually low bit-rate of 192kb/ps has been used for the surround track, resulting in lower definition and sharpness than the average DD5.1 soundtrack. However, most of the film is dialogue-based and the surround track is adequate for the task, if unimpressive.
The English subtitles are almost perfect with only one or two very minor grammatical errors. The subtitle text is white with a black surround and remains clear and easy to read throughout the film.
The menu system is based around a CG rendering of the apartment building in which the film takes place, with optional animated sequences between selections. The menu options are all in Spanish text only, but this should provide no real difficulty even for people with absolutely no knowledge of the language, as translations for the most part are fairly easy to guess.
As is to be expected from a Collector's Edition, a reasonable quantity of extras is provided. Unfortunately, no English subtitles are provided for any of the extra material.
The main extra on the first disc is a feature-length commentary in Spanish from director Álex de la Iglesia. The lack of English subtitles is particularly a shame here as Álex de la Iglesia clearly has a lot to say about the film.
The first disc also includes a section containing short profiles of the sixteen characters living in the apartment building, accompanied by brief actor profiles and filmographies.
Trailers for two other Spanish releases, Calle 54 and El Portero, round out the content of the first disc.
The second disc contains the bulk of the extra material, starting with a teaser trailer. This is aptly named, as only about ten seconds of its single-minute runtime consists of footage from the film and it is therefore safe to view before the main feature.
The excellent making-of documentary runs for some twenty-five minutes and contains a wealth of on-set footage alongside interviews with the director and cast, interspersed with clips from the film itself. The on-set footage and interviews are full-frame, with the scenes from the film presented in widescreen letterboxed format.
Five deleted scenes are available for viewing as one continuous four-minute block. The footage is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and is of noticeably poorer quality than the main feature itself. No explanation for the removal of the scenes is provided, but none are directly relevant to the central plot and their purpose instead is either to provide humour or to help establish the relationships between the characters.
Perhaps the most notable extra comes in the form of Álex de la Iglesia's debut short film, Mirandas Asesinas. The film's title roughly translates as The Mirandas Killer and the plot concerns a harmless-looking stranger who walks into a bar and orders a Miranda, a Spanish orange drink. On being asked to pay for the drink, the stranger protests that the bartender failed to warn him in advance that there would be a charge. After a brief argument, the stranger pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. In order to avoid the stranger's wrath, one of the other customers in the bar then begins to serve the stranger with more Mirandas, as other customers walk in. The film is approximately twelve minutes in length and was shot in black-and-white in the style of an old film noire. The transfer is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and certainly looks like an un-restored print from sixty years ago, though this is probably intentional and certainly suits the film.
Next comes five-and-a-half minutes of footage from the 2001 Goya awards. La Comunidad won three Goyas in total, the award for best special effects, the best supporting male award for Emilio Gutiérrez Caba and the best leading actress award for Carmen Maura. The acceptance speeches are thankfully short and free from tears.
The rather pointless photo gallery contains twelve stills from the film.
A small section of text-based extras contains cast credits, crew credits and filmographies for Carmen Maura, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba and Álex de la Iglesia.
Unusually, a making-of documentary for the DVD itself is included. Running for not much longer than a minute, this consists of footage filmed within the mastering studio showing the process of creating the CG menus and the computer mastering process itself. The footage is un-narrated with only a musical soundtrack. Thanks to its brief runtime and some kinetic camerawork this segment is less dull than it sounds.
The final extra is a short multi-angle sequence demonstrating the CG environment created for the DVD menus.
La Comunidad is a vintage-style comedy-thriller with potential mainstream appeal that does not deserve to be consigned to obscurity as a cult foreign-language movie only seen by a select few. Anybody with a sense of humour and a fondness for Hitchcock should find the film refreshing and enjoyable.
The Manga Films Spanish edition is the only currently available DVD release with English subtitles. A UK DVD release is a possibility following its theatrical release, but it is unlikely that this would include the wealth of extra material included with the Spanish edition. Consequently, Spanish speakers are advised to buy the Manga Films edition, while non-Spanish speakers may prefer to wait and see if the film receives a UK or US DVD release.
The Manga Films edition can be purchased from Spanish online retailers DVDGo and Veoveo as well as the US-based supplier Poker Industries.