Last week I saw two very different films, both built around the concept of one week’s events, and both using the days of the week as chapter titles up on the screen.
The first was Jaume Balagueró’s psychological horror, Mientras duermes (SleepTight), available to view on Amazon Prime, if you have that. The horror was mostly unseen, as the concept of the movie revolved around César, a concierge in a Barcelona apartment block, who controls the life of one particular tenant by entering her apartment at night. He is very thorough – cleans and tidies, visits his hospitalized mother regularly – and helpful to the residents – one elderly woman in particular asks him to look after her dogs, to which he deliberately feeds rich food to induce diarrhoea, our first hint that he is not an altogether nice character. We are disappointed, because he is played by Luis Tosar, who is charming, and he confides in us while we follow his every step towards an unspeakable goal. I shall not reveal it, in case you decide to give this a go, but suffice to say that the Spanish title (‘While you are asleep’) gives you some idea. About our protagonist we know little, save that he is scrupulous about personal hygiene, is self-confessedly incapable of experiencing happiness and at times is given to climbing onto the roof to contemplate suicide. The chapter headings referred to above serve to divide up the days for this man of very irregular hours, and build towards a preordained climax, commencing on Monday and culminating on Sunday. That said it is impossible that the action of the film be itself contained within a given week (the changes we see preclude that interpretation), so the structuring device is no more than that, a weakness perhaps in the film’s conception, as was, for me, the lack of a satisfactory explanation for the character’s actions towards the girl.
The second film was John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary (IFT, April 25th – May 1st), with Brendan Gleeson as an Irish priest approached by a former victim of child abuse who has sworn vengeance on the cloth. Here the use of days as a marker of time is less solely symbolic, in that the events could just about have happened during one week (although the space between Friday and Sunday, when Father James returns to drink, flies off to the big city and appears to abandon the priesthood, does seem somewhat telescoped). The theme of the film – a man taking on himself the sins of an ungodly community – inevitably conjures up religious connotations for the weekly structure (the seven days of creation or, more likely, Easter week), and it is all the more satisfying a conceit for that. And although the protagonist ends up in a much less happy place than César in Sleep Tight, the conclusion of the film is reassuring, holding up the prospect for healing and forgiveness, whereas the Spanish one is disquietingly bleak.
Two films worth seeing then, and each using a similar device to divergent ends: a devil and a saint – how appropriate for Easter week!