Wounded (La Herida): San Sebastian Review

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A well-judged performance by Marian Alvarez makes the potentially forbidding subject matter, about where normality ends and madness begins, surprisingly accessible.

Fernando Franco’s psychological study of a wounded woman is the only debut feature competing at this year’s San Sebastian festival.

A life lived on the frontier between” normality” and “madness” is the intriguing theme of Wounded, Fernando Franco’s unflinching, claustrophobic  X-ray of a woman living in the grip of a mental condition that neither she, nor anyone around her, recognizes as such. Featuring an intense, every-scene performance from Marian Alvarez, the film extends a recent tendency in Spanish film, best crystallized in the work of Jaime Rosales, of focusing at feature length on damaged people, and reveals a similarly serious sense of moral purpose.

But Alvarez’s lively, engaging performance reaches out into the theater and makes the film more accesible than its tricky subject matter would suggest. Further festival screenings, particularly in sidebars with an interest in women’s work, seem likeliest for this debut feature from the editor of Pablo Berger’s Snow White.

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Superficially, there is nothing unusual about the life of Ana (Alvarez): she lives with her somewhat remote mother (Rosana Pastor), has a job as an ambulance worker alongside friendly Jaime (Manolo Solo), and soon after the film begins, her relationship with Alex (Andres Gertrudix) ends.

But away from her cautiously-lived social life, there is a darker side – Ana spends too much time in her locked bedroom, unburdening herself on strangers via chatrooms; she is likely to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation; she indulges in a little light klepomania;  and she self-harms.

There’s little plot to speak of. Ana does her job, goes to the occasional party or disco, and in a scene that brings her to the end of a particular cycle, she attends her father’s (Ramon Agirre) wedding. The film never identifies what Ana’s condition is, with the press book identifying it as a “borderline personality disorder”; but unfortunately for Ana, neither she nor anyone else in the film has ever heard of such a condition.  Her social isolation, brief flashes of happiness with Jaime apart, is thus more or less complete, and she simply hates everyone, most of all her father.

The demands placed on Alvarez, a former Best Actress award winner at the Locarno festival and best known in Spain for her TV roles, are considerable, especially since Ana is such an isolated figure. It’s hard to engage an audience if you spend so much time sitting in the darkness of your  room tapping away at a computer or sitting in the bathroom drawing a razor lightly across your wrists, but it is to the actress’s credit that after about thirty minutes she successfully wins sympathy from viewers willing to engage.

The central irony of Wounded is that its damaged protagonist, so unable to help herself, is driven by the need to help others, a neat scripting decision and one that’s necessary if Ana to come over as more than merely damagingly self-absorbed.  This is embodied in her moving relationship with Parkinson’s sufferer Martin (the reliably wonderful Ramon Barea); her relationship with him, presumably based on her sense of their shared victimhood and isolation, is the closest relationship she has with anyone.

Performances are solid across the board, with the actors discovering nuance even when screen time is short. Santiago Racaj's often hand-held camera work is intent on capturing Ana in faux documentary close up or medium shot, with much of the focus on her wide, nervously darting eyes, which also seem to be appealing for help.

On the sidelines of Wounded, there is a pretty serious critique being made – of the media fashionability of some mental conditions at the expense of others, and of our inability to recognize them as mental conditions at all until they have been named into existence by the authorities. Such weighty considerations are what give the film, with its intense focus on one individual, its universality.

Production: Kowalski, Encanta Films, Ferdydurke, Elamedia, Pantalla Partida
Cast: Marian Alvarez, Rosana Pastor, Manolo Solo, Andres Gertrudix, Ramon Agirre, Ramon Barea.
Producers: Koldo Zuazua, Samuel Martínez, Mario Madueño, Roberto Butragueño, Manuel Calvo, Fernando Franco
Director of photography: Santiago Racaj
Production designer: Miguel Angel Rebollo
Editor: David Pinillos
Sound: Aitor Berenguer, Nacho Arenas, Jaime Fernandez

Sales: Imagina International Sales

No rating, 105 minutes