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Lolafilms presents
Common Wealth (La Comunidad) (2000)

"I'm the same person I always was. A millionaire, but the same."
- Julia (Carmen Maura)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: February 02, 2005

Stars: Carmen Maura
Other Stars: Eduardo Antuña, Maréa Asquerino, Jesús Bonilla, Marta Fernández Muro, Paca Gabaldón, Ane Gabarain, Sancho Garcia, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, Kiti Manver, Terele Pávez, Roberto Perdomo, Manuel Tejada, Enrique Villén
Director: Álex de la Iglesia

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:44m:35s
Release Date: November 30, 2004
UPC: 634991178129
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-BA- B+

DVD Review

Common Wealth (La Comunidad) is a wonderfully delicious black comedy. It feels like a Hitchcock film for the 21st century with a Spanish twist. Honestly, I haven't seen a comedy this rich in humor, characterization, and atmosphere since Fargo. All I can say is that when I sat down to watch it, I wasn't in a good mood, but when the closing credits began to roll, I felt great!

A blonde woman, à la Hitchcock, works as a realtor in Madrid. Her name is Julia (Carmen Maura), her marriage is lifeless, and she hates her job. All of this changes when she stumbles into a gorgeous apartment. So gorgeous that she refuses to sell it to her clients and begins to live there with her husband, Ricardo (Jesús Bonilla). Meanwhile, the apartment above Julia's newfound luxury pad springs a leak that tears through the floor. It seems that an old man has died, much to the anticipation of all of the other tenants. By pure chance, Julia stumbles upon a kind of treasure map that takes her to the old man's lottery winnings. She manages to smuggle it out of his apartment and down to hers, but the rest of the tenants are watching her like a mouse.

Speaking of the other tenants, they are quite a collection of characters. There's Castro (Sancho Gracia), a highly violent man who is ready to kill Julia after she takes the money. There's also Ramona (Terele Pávez), Castro's mistress who also shares his bloodlust. Even more outlandish, however, is Charly (Eduardo Antuña), who is almost always dressed in full-blown Darth Vader apparel. What they all appear to have in common, along with the building's other denizens, is a desire to get the old man's money. As the story progresses we slowly learn that the apartment manager, Emilio (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba), has created a community amongst the apartment owners that will result in them sharing the old man's money equally. Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan for a variety of reasons and thus begins a highly violent, always entertaining comedy that plunges into the darkest arenas of humanity and comes up smiling.

What I loved first about the movie is how it sets everything up so well. There's something too perfect about this new apartment. You can feel it thanks to the wonderful score by Roque Baños and Alejandro Sanz, which combines Bernard Herrmann with Danny Elfman for an evocative sound that highlights the mordant humor. Just as intricate to the feeling of the film is the set of this apartment building, which feels creepy, decrepit, and inviting all at once. Equally impressive are the cinematography and film editing. Thankfully the director, Álex de la Iglesia, knows how to utilize these elements for the advancement of his story instead of letting them dominate the story. Apart from a brief lag toward the beginning of the second act, Iglesia's direction keeps things moving at a steadfast pace that sucked me right in.

In addition to being made so well, Common Wealth also features some good acting. Each of the supporting roles is played to near perfection by the cast, interacting convincingly with one another, making each character identifiable. However, the two standout performances are by Carmen Maura and Emilio Gutiérrez Caba. The weight of the film is on Maura's shoulders, since if we don't believe her we probably won't accept the absurdities of the story. However, she delivers with spades and makes even the most impossible and over-the-top situations feel natural. Caba's performance, although small, is a real showstopper. There's a scene between him and Maura that I won't reveal here, but his work in it is both scary and unsettlingly funny.

However, what I love most about is the story. The script, by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Iglesias, is part macabre, part moral lesson, and pure cinema. It has wickedly funny dialogue and some truly amazing bits sprinkled throughout. However, what I love most about it—being the conservative that I am—is its apparent critique of Marxism and why it fails. But don't let my politics spoil this movie for you, because Common Wealth is awfully good no matter what point-of-view you bring to it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved in this anamorphic RSDL transfer. There is a bit of mosquito noise during some of the film, particularly in the old man's apartment, and occasional dirt. However, apart from those flaws, it is a clean transfer with solid colors and accurate skin tones. It's nothing special, but it's nice to look at.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 Castilian mix is a real treat, with lots of sound separation and directionality (especially during the opening credits). The front soundstage opens up nicely with some impressive sound design that never feels distracting or gimmicky. Ambient noises and the score find a comfortable home in the surround speakers, making this a nice listen.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Torrente 2, Dying of Laughter, Golden Balls, God Is On the Air
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:23m:38s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery—a collection of stills from the motion picture.
  2. Short Film—the short film Killer Mirindas by director Álex de la Iglesia.
Extras Review: English or Spanish presentation (additionally, the cover art is English on one side and Spanish on the other). For those like me who need English to navigate through the DVD, the English subtitles will also be a nice addition to the film. Apart from a few typos, it's a nicely paced subtitle track that makes it easy to watch both the image and read the dialogue.

Now, as for the supplemental material, the Making of Featurette (25m:18s) contains interviews with the cast and director. Thankfully it isn't just a fluff promotional piece, but actually has some insightful comments and interesting behind-the-scenes footage. Following that are five deleted scenes that play together for a total running time of four minutes, two seconds. Each is presented in nonanamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, but none of them deserved to make the final cut of the film. There's also a very brief photo gallery.

Another nice inclusion is director Iglesias' short film Killer Mirindas (11m:59s). It's a bizarre horror movie of sorts, shot in black-and-white and on a noticeably small budget. I liked it, even though there isn't much of a story to it apart from a guy shooting people who don't answer his questions the way he likes. The final extra is a collection of trailers for Spanish produced films. Apart from the trailer for Common Wealth, there is some nudity on all of the others (Torrente 2, Dying of Laughter, Golden Balls, and God Is On the Air). Additionally, Torrente 2 and God Is On the Air feature some more intense images than American viewers are used to seeing in their movie previews, so be forewarned.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Common Wealth works like an unfamiliar, well-oiled machine. At times you don't necessarily know where it's taking you, but you know it'll get you there. The image transfer is good, but trumped by a lively Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The extras are a nice supplement disc, making this a nice blind buy for the sinister comic in all of us.


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