Despite being somewhat of a cinematic cliché, rarely has a feature been so aptly deserving of its description as a film of two halves – since Andrés Baiz’s production The Hidden Face is a compelling tale of intersecting narratives, in a feature that could quite easily be released as two separate films.
The picture opens as wealthy, voguish orchestra conductor Adrián (Quim Gutiérrez) receives a video message from his partner Belén (Clara Lago), in which she breaks up with him. Her sudden disappearance leaves Adrián dejected, confused but keen to move on, as he swiftly becomes romantically involved with barmaid Fabiana (Martina García). The pair fall madly in love as Fabiana moves in with her new lover. However her opening few days at her new residence are tainted by a paranoia that she is being haunted, following a string of mystifying incidents taking place in the bathroom, as she is convinced that she can hear noises emanating from the drains.
The latter half of the feature acts as a flashback into the relationship between Adrián and Belén – seemingly all-consuming and passionate. However, after moving to South America from Spain for Adrián’s new work placement, the pair begin to argue and as tension mounts Belén decides to play a trick on her partner to test his resolve and commitment. Having discovered a secret room in their new home thanks to a tip-off from the previous tenants, Belén decides to leave Adrián the video message to declare that she is leaving him, whilst planning to watch his reaction from this secret hideaway. The room is entirely disguised and sound-proof, but allows those inside to see and hear everything that is happening on the outside. She hopes to witness him suffering of course, to prove he still has feelings for her, but Belén has accidentally dropped the key on her way into the room and is now firmly locked in, with the added torture of having to watch Adrián’s new relationship with Fabiana unfold, as she desperately searches for a route out before it’s too late.
The Hidden Face is brilliantly structured by Baiz, as he cleverly tells his story in reverse order, showing Fabiana’s side to the tale before delving into Belén’s, which had taken place previously. Despite it’s originality and ingenuity, the second half of the film does feel as though we are going over old ground, though in fairness, it’s the more enjoyable half, as it becomes good fun piecing it all together. Despite the fact Baiz is initially teasing us early on by taking on the guise of a horror movie, as the story unfolds and it all becomes clear, it soon becomes a riveting (albeit absurd) survival thriller.
The performances from the leading trio are all impressive: over-the-top certainly, yet it suits the nature of the film as they play on the melodramatic and often absurd plot-line. Gutiérrez, however, bears a more relatable character, portraying the ordinary man wrapped up in the fantastical elements surrounding him. It’s interesting that although effectively being the lead role and caught up in the romantic triangle, Adrián is completely unaware of anything that is going on around him. As for being an orchestra conductor, whilst mostly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, his profession doubles up not only as a plot line but as an entry to a wonderfully dramatic soundtrack, as the music he conducts is used as the score, playing in the background to the more atmospheric and enticing scenes.
There is indisputable creativity within the story, but there are of course some misgivings in Baiz’s second feature film. Firstly, the relationship between Fabiana and Adrián could be explored further and made more comprehensible, as they appear to get together a little hastily, with little explanation. In fact the entire beginning to the film feels quite rushed , not only their relationship, but the entire story – a sentiment enhanced by Baiz’s use of sharp cuts and scene changes – whilst the fast pace of the Spanish dialogue doesn’t help in this respect either.
Another small gripe comes in the somewhat perplexing concept of time, as it becomes difficult to judge just how long Belén remains behind the mirrors. Although perhaps losing all sense of time is a conscious move by Baiz, as he intends to make the audience feel as Belén does, locked away and oblivious to the world outside. Finally, the constant eroticism within the film does seem superfluous, and, not that one often complains about such a thing, it does feel somewhat unnecessary. Those Europeans just can’t help themselves.
The Hidden Face is a hugely enjoyable, quirky and entertaining thriller; illogical of course, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you allow yourself to become engrossed in Baiz’s picture, it’s bound to compel you. There will no doubt be a Hollywood re-make of this within the coming years, but here is a foreign language film definitely worth seeing in its original version.