|Jose Maria (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) in Rage.|
By Don Simpson
Jose Maria (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) has a nasty temper. The moment someone says or does something harmful to him or someone he cares about, he lashes out in a violent rage. (He has a killer punch to boot.) But before the violence erupts, you can see the anger intensely boiling in Jose Maria’s eyeballs. It is as if Jose Maria is attempting to kill his foe simply with his gaze, but director Sebastian Cordero’s third film steers far, far away from the supernatural (such as laser beams shooting from people’s eyes).
This is around the time that I should warn you: Do not let the Dario Argento-esque title fool you, Rage is an intensely über-realistic character study, not a horror film. What Rage studies most carefully is the perception and treatment of Latin American immigrants working in Spain. (Get it? Race/Rage. Anyway...) Jose Maria is a “spick” construction worker and his new girlfriend Rosa (Martina Garcia) is a beautiful young housemaid. They both hail from South America and because of their lack of European citizenship their social status is not much higher than that of animals or slaves. They do the work that the xenophobic Spaniards do not want to do. Men like Jose Maria are expected to be manual laborers with no other role in society while women like Rosa are treated merely as sexual objects. Illegal immigrants are only allowed to exist when they are needed for work, otherwise they are to remain out of sight yet they are a necessary component of the capitalist machine. (This is not all that dissimilar to the perception and treatment of illegal immigrants in the increasingly xenophobic U.S.)
Barely scraping enough income together to survive, Jose Maria sleeps on a bunk bed in a cramped space with six other immigrants while Rosa lives in a quaint secluded room in her employers’ -- the Torres family -- mansion. When Jose Maria loses his construction job and finds himself on the run from the police, he hides in the shadows of an unused section of the Torres mansion. No one, including Rosa, has any clue that Jose Maria is inside the mansion. Forced to live out of sight from everyone, Jose Maria becomes a literal manifestation of society’s perception of illegal immigrants. Jose Maria evolves into a rat-like creature (figuratively, of course), scampering down to the kitchen to scour for food any moment the house is temporarily vacant, taking more significant risks when his hunger grows too intense. (Even his bowel movements are done clandestinely in plastic bags.)
Adapted from Argentine author Sergio Bizzio’s novel, Cordero’s characters are incredibly well-developed and multidimensional. Every choice of action made by Rosa and Jose Maria makes perfect sense within the context of the narrative. We experience their incredible desire to become normal members of society, to experience love and respect, to start a family. Even the Torres family members are more than just uptight and oppressive bourgeoisie. Their decisions are not restrained by class or economics, they reason just like real people.
Unfortunately, all of this focus on character development and realism slows Rage down to a near crawl. Rage has the makings of a fantastic thriller and while I respect his stylistic choices, there could have very easily been some climactic tension if Cordero only opted to pick up the pace every once in a while.