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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Common Wealth (La comunidad)
Common Wealth (La comunidad)
Ventura // R // January 11, 2005
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 23, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The movie

Some movies sit tidily in their assigned genres, or at most bring in two together. Then there are the films like Common Wealth: a film that gleefully wreaks havoc with our preconceptions. Common Wealth (original Spanish title: La comunidad) slides effortlessly between genres, so we're never quite sure when to laugh and when to cringe; the effect is almost surreal and is undeniably effective.

Common Wealth starts out on a mildly comic note, as we meet Julia (Carmen Maura), a real estate agent who's struggling to sell a lavishly-appointed apartment in an otherwise run-down building full of decidedly odd neighbors. At first she considers herself lucky to be able to pretend she's the apartment owner in order to enjoy a few nights of luxury living there before it's sold, but then things really heat up when she stumbles across a secret having to do with the apartment below... and discovers that she may be a target for her greedy (and perhaps murderous) neighbors.

The film's opening credits set the tone for the film, with a distinctive and bizarre presentation that's quite effective in generating interest in what's to come. Humor shifts between "ordinary" comedy and black comedy of a very dark hue, so dark as to blend seamlessly into horror in many instances. At the same time, there's also a suspense plot developing around what Julia knows, what the neighbors know, what the neighbors know about what Julia knows, and what Julia knows about what the neighbors know. Got that? No? Well, in the film it all makes perfect sense, in a twisted and bizarre way, and the combinations of who-knows-what and who-did-what get increasingly complicated and deadly.

The performances here are certainly key to the success of the film; it's no surprise to learn that Carmen Maura won the Goya Award (the Spanish equivalent to the Academy Award) for Best Actress for her performance here. (Common Wealth also snagged the Goya for Best Supporting Actor and Best Special Effects.) She portrays Julia as just the right kind of character for a weird and slightly disturbing film like this: realistic and sympathetic enough that we believe in her and can relate to her, tough and hard-bitten enough to go through with all that the story demands of her, and just greedy enough that we understand completely why she won't walk away from an increasingly deadly situation.

Common Wealth's balance of dark humor and suspense is a tricky one to balance, and although the film doesn't sustain itself perfectly all the way to the end, it almost gets there in perfect shape. In the last quarter or so of the film, all the masks come off: we know where every character stands, and the only question left, really, is who is going to (literally) be left standing when the credits roll. Since much of the weird charm of the film is in the intrigue and suspicion felt by all the characters who can't quite be sure what the other character knows, the ending lacks a bit of the spark that's in the rest of the film. It's still a reasonable conclusion, though, with a few nice touches thrown in and perhaps a twist that viewers might not expect.

The DVD

Video

Common Wealth appears in what looks like the advertised 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but at least in the credits, it's evident that there's missing information on each side of the image, as many of the names in the credits are partially cut off. When it comes to the film itself, everything looks in order, though; I didn't notice any indication that the framing was off.

The transfer is in widescreen anamorphic, and overall looks very good. Colors and contrast are handled extremely well, which is essential given the film's many dark, creepy scenes. The print looks clean, with no flaws or dirt appearing in the image. The only thing that's holding it back from a higher video score is that there's a moderate amount of grain in the image throughout the film: not so much that it's particularly noticeable, but enough to soften the picture somewhat.

The English subtitles are optional. They're in easy-to-read white lettering and capture the dialogue fairly accurately (though a few of the obscenities get lost in the shuffle, I noticed.)

Audio

The original Spanish Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does an excellent job on all counts. It's crisp and clean, with the dialogue sounding natural and easy to understand, and the overall feel of the track is rich and full. What's more, the surround channels are used extremely effectively, with special effects being placed in distinct audio locations around the room. There's one scene in particular whose sound design made my skin crawl.

A dubbed Spanish 2.0 track is also included. No, that's not a typo: in addition to the original Spanish (Castillano) soundtrack, there's another that is dubbed in so-called "neutral Spanish" (a made-up homogenized accent that sounds vaguely Latin-American) which sounds absolutely awful. Fortunately, this is not the default setting. I'm surprised that the studio even bothered with this option, as the original dialogue is already in normal, "neutral" Spanish as spoken in Spain; the characters don't have any strong regional accents at all and are perfectly easy to understand.

Optional English subtitles are included, and can be selected either from the menu or on the fly.

Extras

The menus are nicely designed, with an introductory option to view them in Spanish or English.

Several special features are included. The "making-of featurette" runs 25 minutes and though it's primarily promotional in nature, it does include some moderately interesting moments, for instance with director Álex de la Iglesia giving his thoughts about the film. It's in the original Spanish with optional English subtitles, as are the four minutes of deleted scenes. There's also an early short film by de la Iglesia called "Killer Mirindas," which offers nine minutes of utter and complete weirdness. Lastly, we get a photo gallery and trailers for Common Wealth, Torrente 2, Dying of Laughter, Golden Balls, and God Is on the Air.

Final thoughts

Even though I thought the film was fantastic, it has actually been quite difficult to write this review, as Common Wealth is a film that basically has to be seen to be appreciated. It's delightfully different and bizarrely appealing, and if you have a taste for black humor and clever storytelling, then this off-beat film is certainly for you. I was certainly entranced and fully entertained from start to finish. Highly recommended.

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