There was a short moment, when it would have been possible to end a long series of fatal misunderstandings and half-truths, a moment, when the disoriented old teacher Damian (Jose Sacristan) could have understood, in which way he has been manipulated by the young woman Barbara again. But he prefers to shoot the possible truth teller right in the forehead. This with lapidary violence marked the event near the end of Carlos Vermuth’s 127-minutes-long feature film which depicts a comically-tragic final figure of a series of sharply contoured, always dialog based scenes, all merging to form a hermetic tableau of missed communications. With Magical Girl (La niña de fuego) Vermut continues his dark dramaturgy, which had already marked his first feature film, Diamond Flash (2011), a film that had received much attention in Spain.
Here the static scenes, the concentration of individual psychological sets and an insisting view of the sadness overwhelming the daily life in a Spain under the shadow of economical digression, which even soaks into the inner decorations replenishing them with bleakness, are further characteristics of his style.
Only a few musical tones are pronounced, the lamenting flamenco song by Manolo Caracol’s “De Fuego”, promising nothing good, some notes from Bach and Satie. Vermut’s world is based on dialog and imagination, which plays with large gaps in the story, hiding huge event sequences for the spectator, as the protagonists are also sadly juggling on unsure ground, detached from important information.
The movie starts with a verbal aggression from the young self-confident Barbara (Barbara Lennie). Her victim is her schoolteacher Damian, who asks her to pass over her written note of her offence but he doesn’t receive it. The magical girl had let it mysteriously disappear. Years later we find Barbara back as a dependent and intimidated housewife, treated badly by her husband, putting her down in an almost sadistic style. It remains incomprehensible for the spectator, how such a transformation of her personality could have happened. Also it keeps from being revealed, what happened exactly between Barbara and her teacher Damian, who was captured for a long time in prison, and who asks for permission to stay there, fearing he might meet her again.
A second action line shows another magical girl, the 12-year-old Alicia (Lucia Pollan), in her last days deadly marked by leukemia. She is taking refuge in a magical animated world and identifies herself with Yukido, a fantasy figure capable of transforming everything with her magical baton. For this figure the designer Meiko Saori has developed a special costume, ready to sell for a quite advanced amount of money. This is too much for her desperate father Luis (Luis Bermejo), who wants to do everything to fulfil her – as he thought – last wishes, but is not patient enough to listen to the radio program, where his daughter had left a special message for him, telling him, that he knows about her illness and is just wishing, that he stays near to her, a first act of lacking communication. Luis sells his beloved books, is ready to rob a jewelry shop but finds himself surprisingly, just before going into action, in Barbara’s luxurious apartment where she is asking him for more tenderness. The helpless man tries to blackmail her after the consummated act, believing, that for her it’s not a big deal to deliver the money. He of course ignores the total lack of communication between Barbara and her husband Alfredo (Israel Elejalde), evidently a successful psychologist outside his own house, as he ignores her scared dependence, as he will ignore the way she decided to capture the money by prostituting herself. The spiral lack of communication is again increased, as Luis again needs a higher amount for the missing magical baton, not included in the already purchased costume price, and for this now requested sum Barbara has to deliver her body completely to unlimited torture, demanded from a well-organized secret society, represented by a cultivated man in a wheel chair, who is philosophizing about instincts, the Spanish soul and bullfighting. Barbara enters the torture room, in which perversion will have no limits and no stop word can be pronounced any more, as she understands in the last moment of not really being informed by her former friend and intermediary. She disappears behind a heavy curtain. The camera is not following her. Therefore, Vermut indicates another form of impossible communicability.
What follows is a last act of failed communication: a heavily injured Barbara ordered her old teacher Damian, who has evidently already helped her out of a painful situation in former times, having paid largely for his act in the hospital where he had been exploited, to liberate her from her blackmailer, this father and literature teacher, whom she is designing as the direct cause of her wounds. The order is followed and the man shouted, before Damian could have understood, what is the fault, and what is not in this story. Other victims follow in the process of escalating violence, in tragic consequences even the young magical girl herself, who has dressed up with her beautiful costume and baton, to thank her father.
In this hermetic circulation of failed communications Vermut separates from time to time the isolated scenes with inter-titles, like “world”, “demon” and “flesh”, which open up to large association potentialities, but does not indicate clear suggestions or interpretations. All characters are victims of their non-communicated realities, but Barbara is the ambivalent key point of the destruction. She jokes with her shocked friends about throwing their baby out of the window; she had already pressed her face in a splitting mirror in an autodestruct manner, and does not hesitate in creating a new murderer and his victim, who is at least not responsible for her self-destroying way for receiving the money. Barbara is a femme fatale against her own will, abandoned and disoriented by her own husband. In this Vermut cosmos we should be prepared for an upcoming series of pain and enigmatic characters.
Edited by Steven Yates
© FIPRESCI 2015