The Hidden Face (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
From what it seems, because it looks like he has been crying for a while, it is not the first time Adrián (Quim Gutiérrez) watches the break-up video that his girlfriend, Belén (Clara Lago), leaves him before she bolted from their relationship. Hoping to pacify his anger, frustration, and grief, Adrián heads to a bar to drink the night away. One of the bartenders, Fabiana (Martina García), takes an immediate liking to him. Later, obviously not in a state to drive, she decides to take the man she has just met to her place for the night.
Eventually, Adrián and Fabiana form a relationship. They stay in his palatial home most of the time. But when Fabiana is alone, she suspects that she is not really. She feels that something wrong about Adrián and the house. She suspects even more when two investigators visit and ask her new beau questions about his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance.
Sometimes the joy of watching movies involves diving into their dark waters without having any knowledge of their depth. “La cara oculta,” based on the screenplay and directed by Andrés Baiz, is a great example because not only is its central mystery engaging but once its secret revealed, the film uses it to comment on the human condition about what it means to hold romantic feelings for someone and what lengths a person, or persons, will go to maintain control of something that is intangible and constantly changing.
The film is beautifully shot especially when it comes to the interiors of Adrián’s home. It is important that we are impressed with the place to the point where we can imagine ourselves living there because it supports why Fabiana is drawn not only to her boyfriend but also what he can buy and own. At times I questioned Fabiana’s motivations. While Adrián is physically attractive and successful (he is a conductor of an orchestra, considered very young in his profession), is she more interested in the man or the lifestyle that he can provide? Certain shots suggest that she is only in it for lavishness, his bright and spacious home in direct opposite to the dark and confined bar she has grown accustomed.
It jumps back in time about one-third through its story. Its careful weaving of details until we come full circle to the very first shot in the film is particularly impressive. I think it is because the director makes a smart decision by playing it small. By avoiding to hyperbolize revelations, the atmosphere of mystery remains even after it is unveiled. We remain bewildered, curious, and aghast with what is unfolding.
Because it is consistently so patient and in control, the abrupt ending is unsatisfying. It is more appropriate that it ends like a graceful solemn drama than a D-grade thriller where something appears out of the blue for the sake of milking one more jolt. It is not about jump-out-of-your-seat moments anyway. Also, the investigators do not have much to do. As intelligent and engaged audiences, we are capable of asking more profound and pointed questions than them. They should have been written as more incisive men of the law.
“The Hidden Face,” written by Hatem Khraiche, is fun because it attempts and succeeds in playing with our expectations. Because of what she has experienced, Fabiana comes to the conclusion that the house has a fantasma. I think she is right. But not in a traditional sense.