‘The High Pressures’ (‘Las Altas Presiones’): Seville Review

altas presiones The High Pressure Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Matriuska Producciones

altas presiones The High Pressure Still - H 2014

Skillfully made drama damaged by its hapless protagonist

A take on an alienated Spanish generation which was a section winner at the recent Seville fest

As directors such as Gabriel Velazquez and Alberto Morais can testify, with youth unemployment currently running at more than 50%, in Spain there’s never been a better time to make movies about the alienated young. The High Pressures is the latest addition to the roster, but rather than keeping the focus on the social, Angel Santos’ debut gives us a protagonist who feels it as a full-blown existential crisis, wondering what life means for him and his kind as he wanders around the villages and landscapes in search of redemption which remains just out of reach.

Miguel’s search for meaning is not successfully dramatized, but the film’s ambitions and seriousness of purpose are always evident in its craftsmanship, making Pressures, with its elegant take on its contemporary concerns, a likely candidate for festival play.

Miguel (Andres Gertrudix) has returned to his native Galicia, in northern Spain, as a location scout for a Madrid film project which doesn’t enthuse him: indeed, little does. (There’s an increasing number of interesting film projects coming out of Galicia at the moment.) But he no longer fits in at home, as he no longer fits in in Madrid: the economic crisis has made Miguel a double exile. Looking for old friend Monica (a persuasive Marta Pazos), he finds her sister Paula (Diana Gomez) and later another old friend, Juan (Juan Blanco), who go scouting. Miguel can only forlornly shoot them through his camera as they get closer, vibrant in a way that he’s unable to be.

At a party, Miguel meets nurse Alicia (Itsaso Arana), but mostly he continues to feel isolated. At about the mid-point they head to a forest home in Portugal, where Monica lives with her eccentric puppeteer boyfriend Bruno (Hugo Torres). (Having no homes of their own, Spaniards depend on their grandparents.) At this point, the dramatic focus starts to open and things become more interesting.

Gertrudix is a fine actor who, with his intense, somewhat otherworldly look and manner, is in danger of becoming typecast as the perpetual outsider, a role he’s played in most of his recent films -- most notably in Ramon Salazar’s recent underrated 10,000 Nights Nowhere. He’s strong here, but the character is not. Miguel’s social awkwardness and lack of emotional intelligence are just too much: when Monica criticizes Miguel for thinking too much and doing too little, the audience nods in agreement.

Even a tiny spark of something positive in the character -- a feeling of self-worth, a little ambition -- would have gone a long way to upping interest in Miguel’s spiritual plight. As it is, he feels dead. This is presumably the point of the script, but in the movies, even spiritual deadness has to come alive on screen, especially when the inertness starts to dictate the mood of the movie as a whole.

As Miguel himself admits, his friends have put together some kind of life for themselves, even though he seems to see them as deluded. Consequently, they’re all more interesting than MIguel is. Only Alicia has a regular job, and it’s towards her that Miguel naturally gravitates: what’s less clear is why she gravitates towards him. Alicia apart, they’re all basically wannabe artists, as many unemployed young Spaniards are, which is well-observed by Santos.

Visually, The High Pressures is a treat, as well as a kind of guide to bohemian small-town life in a hidden corner of Spain. Apparently this includes concerts by bands such as the terrific Unicornbot, who make wonderfully fragmented noise and who wear hats made of aluminum foil. Editing by Fernando Franco, the director of recent festival hit Wounded, makes a crucial contribution, as does Alberto Diaz Bertitxi’s photography, making the most of both the verdant, borderline-idyllic Galician landscapes and the abandoned buildings at which Miguel mechanically trains his camera. One beautifully simple shot of Paula, standing happy against a brightly-colored wall, is authentically memorable.

Production company: Matriuska Producciones
Cast: Andres Gertrudix, Itsaso Arana, Diana Gomez, Juan Blanco, Marta Pazos, Hugo Torres
Director: Angel Santos
Screenwriters: Angel Santos, Miguel Gil
Producer: Daniel Froiz
Director of photography: Alberto Diaz Bertitxi
Production designer: Jaione Camborda
Editor: Fernando Franco
Wardrobe: Eva Camino
Sales: Matriuska Producciones

No rating, 81 minutes