Updated: Saturday, 22nd February 2020 @ 5:50am

¡Viva! Festival cinema review: Open 24h @ Cornerhouse

¡Viva! Festival cinema review: Open 24h @ Cornerhouse

By Sophia Rahman

Open 24h centres around the disenfranchised and downtrodden Hector, a twenty-something night watchman with a troubled past.

Young Spanish director Carles Torras’s black and white vision of metropolitan alienation strikes the perfect balance between thought-provoking drama and darkly comic social commentary.

Hector’s days are spent caring for his mute younger brother, begrudgingly obeying his cruel elderly father and being alternatively talked at or ignored by the people he encounters. His lawyer scams him out of money, his doctor advises him to turn to God.

His evenings are spent on security detail for a Barcelona scrapyard. Behind flickering CCTV screens, he reads literature and listens to radio programs about the outer universe, fantasising about the world beyond ours.

The film’s title comes from the convenience store Hector visits of the same name, where he buys the same thing each day. Each time he goes, the same scenario occurs – he goes to the checkout, the checkout girl serves him without looking up from her mobile phone, and he leaves.

Torras said during his Q&A session at the Cornerhouse following the screening that he wanted to make a portrait of incommunication. These scenes have the black humour of an unpleasant experience familiar to us all. They will also become one of the defining impressions of the film when Hector decides he is tired of being ignored.

Emasculated by his callous patriarch of a father and trapped by his vulnerable younger brother, stagnating at his job and having no time or money to find another, he begins to lose his mind.

The anxiety and paranoia brought on by Hector’s traumatic past, teamed with his fractured and aggressive surroundings have blurred his notions of real and imaginary and, finally, right and wrong.

His silent frustration is palpable and we are willing him to tackle his father and his demons and make a change, but he cannot. In the final scene, he shoots the checkout girl dead.

The camera stays divorced from the action and static throughout. We watch from the street outside and are left to sit for a few seconds ruminating on what just happened, what will become of Hector, and what kind of world creates a space for these characters to emerge.

Torras put the slim budget to such great use that found locations around Barcelona take on a life of their own. The director said that Hector’s life is in a process of destruction, the mise-en-scene makes this tangible. The scrapyard Hector patrols is loomed over by monstrous cranes and cluttered with cubed utilities that seem brutal and ominous.

Shocks appear from nowhere. Hector’s tedious wait at the bus stop is violently disturbed by the screaming roar of a train tearing through the frame.

Hisses and rumbles fool us into thinking there is something lying in wait for Hector amidst the metal debris and we hold our breath with him in anticipation, but it is a foil.

With striking visuals, an immersive soundscape and a pared-down script, the film commands the attention of international audiences without us missing the action for the subtitles, and little is lost in translation.

Film Noir, German Expressionism and silent film are all clear influences, as are the early works of Darren Aronofsky and David Lynch, namely Pi and Eraserhead. A comparison that bodes well for Torras, as Lynch and Aronofsky are now modern masters of their craft.

The pull towards the retrogressive is a defining feature of many independent films from the last decade, this one being no exception. Slow Cinema, as it has been termed, is a rejection of the increasingly frenetic and bombastic nature of mainstream film and television – Open 24h exemplifies the movement in all the best ways.