Friday, November 7, 2008

La cabina (1972) (TV)

... aka: Phone Box, The
... aka: Telephone Box, The

Directed by:
Antonio Mercero

I didn't have the pleasure of seeing La cabina when I was a kid, but this 35-minute short has apparently frightened many impressionable tykes over the years. First broadcast on Spanish TV in 1972, it became an overnight sensation there, and then saw new life again over the years; particularly by being broadcast on late night horror shows by the BBC, as early as 1979 (though some sources claim it was first aired in 1981). I'm not aware if this was ever shown in the US or not, and I'm not even aware if it's ever had an official release on video or DVD (there's none that I'm aware of), but it's well worth your time and is easy to find online (try youtube) if you're interested in seeing it.

LA CABINA tells the deceptively simple tale of a nameless middle-aged man (José Luis López Vázquez) who sees his son off one pleasant sunny morning and then steps inside a newly installed red phone box (located in the middle of a busy city square) to make a quick call. Once the door shuts, he finds he can't get it open. A couple of people passing by try to help him out, but no one is able to get the door to budge. The few helpers eventually turn into a virtual mob of spectators, voyeurs and would-be rescuers; sitting, watching, laughing, pointing and even pulling up chairs to see the funny sight of a man who somehow managed to become trapped inside a phone booth. Having the lead character in such a compromising, vulnerable position from which there is no escape, begins as comical, but soon escalates to irritation and discomfort as burly men and even professionals equipped to handle such problems can't even get him out of his predicament. Eventually, the company who installed the telephone box show up. Instead of finding a way to open it, they lift it into a flat bed truck and take off toward... Somewhere. To reveal any more would be unthinkable, but the ending really packs a horrific wallop.

Possibly best described as a gradually building surrealistic nightmare, this manages to provoke more thought and give more insight into what it means to live in an impersonal modern world (among several other timeless themes best explored on your own) than films three times as long. There is very little actual dialogue and what there is is in Spanish with no subtitles, but this is such strong storytelling you don't even need them. It won an International Emmy Award for Fiction in 1973, as well as several other major Spanish awards.


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