Written by: Carroll Jenkins on April 5th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: Spain, 2000
Director: Alex De La Iglesia
Cast: Carmen Maura, Caba Kiti, Perdomo Manuel, Muro Paca, Marta Fernandez, Maria Asquerino, Sancho Gracia, Jesus Bonilla, Terele Pavez, Enrique Villen, Eduardo Antuna, Emilio Gutierrez
Writers: Alex De La Iglesia and Jorge GuerricachevarriaDVD Released: November 30th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Spanish: Dolby Digital Stereo; Castilian: Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD Release: First Look Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Meet the self proscribed “normal” residents of the brownstone. Most have lived here for many years, some all their lives, and they seem like happy, friendly people. They welcome us with open arms – but is one hand open while the other clasps a knife? Are they driven by dreams and aspirations, or paranoid delusion and obsession. Why was the old man terrified to leave his apartment, and what happened to the engineer? What about that voyeuristic man-child running around in a Darth Vader mask brandishing a plastic light saber? Should we make ourselves at home, or should we get out now before we’re asked to sign “the agreement”? Then it may be just too late.
A temporary real estate agent shows a beautifully restored and completely furnished apartment in an otherwise rundown brownstone apartment complex in Madrid. The apartment is so opulent she decides not to let it go to waste. While she tries out the waterbed with her husband, cockroaches start dripping from the ceiling. When the fire department breaks down the door of the apartment above, the other tenants converge on the scene as a deluge of filthy water cascades through the doorway. Inside are mountains of garbage, armies of rats, a broken water pipe, and a seriously neglected cat. Also, a severely decomposed and partially devoured body. It seems the deceased was afraid to leave his apartment after winning a major lottery. The other tenants are united in their aspirations to get their fair share (or maybe more). Too bad the engineer who owned the vacant apartment didn’t conform to the rules of ‘the community’.
Following the grisly pre-credits visage of the cat and the decomposed corpse, the first act plays rather like a sitcom. But once the upstairs apartment is breached, the film enters a new and sinister realm. The exceptional script presents incisive and compelling analysis of human nature as we meet the various residents and learn of their individual lives and of their place in the hierarchy of the collective society. Through them we observe manifestations of lust, fear, envy, and above all, greed.
Although it contains a good amount of humor, Common Wealth is at core a psychological dark comedy thriller which gets progressively violent as events unfold. There are a few external shots such as dangling from balconies, but the bulk of the footage is comprised of claustrophobic interiors. The elaborate apartment complex set is a character in itself, and allows extraordinary camera setups. Of the human characters, the lead, Carmen Maura, won the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar for her performance, and the ensemble cast is every one nothing short of superb. The film won two additional Goya’s for best special effects and best supporting actor.
The ‘making of’ featurette is highly enlightening in many respects. The director and practically the entire cast are interviewed (and subtitled) and provide intriguing comments on the film and the filming experience. The behind the scenes and rehearsal footage is surprisingly sharp and colorful (full screen) and quite fascinating. The screen clips used are non-anamorphic widescreen from a worn print that demonstrates the apparent restoration of the feature presentation. Watch the feature first as this contains spoilers. De La Iglesia ‘s first B&W short, The Killer Mirindas is absolute pitch-black comedy. Like the feature, this has biting social commentary. Visually comparable to a Twilight Zone episode this unfolds entirely in a bar like an existential play. It appears to be from a mediocre source, but the original was probably of poor quality. This is an unforgettably bizarre short with excellent (though necessarily superficial) characterizations. Note: Mirinda is a fruit-flavored soft drink. Additional extras include a small stills gallery, trailers, and deleted scenes. These are actually snippets except for one noteworthy scene that wraps up the domestic subplot and is interesting though ultimately unnecessary. Common Wealth is darkly humorous and thought provoking with some seriously cringe-worthy moments. Highly recommended.