A Monster with a Thousand Heads
Directed by: Rodrigo Plá.
Written by: Laura Santullo.
Starring: Jana Raluy (Sonia Bonet), Hugo Albores (Dr. Villalba), Sebastián Aguirre (Dario), Veronica Falcón (Lorena Morgan), Marco Antonio Aguirre (Agente), Francisco Barreiro (Baez), Alejandra Cárdenas (Sara).
The Mexican film, A Monster with a Thousand Heads, is a thriller, about a normal housewife taking on an unfeeling bureaucratic system that doesn’t care about her or her problems. The plot gets increasingly ridiculous as it moves along, but it hardly moves for a few reasons. The first is that no matter how outlandish things get, the lead actress – Jana Raluy – grounds the film in a believable reality as a woman who has been pushed too far, and has finally gone over the edge. The second is the ingenious way director Rodrigo Pla shoots the entire movie – never how we quite expect to see it, always from a slightly different point-of-view, sometimes with voiceover that is clearly testimony from a trial that will happen in the future – showing the audience a different perspective on the events (we feel certain things about the main characters actions – but then we understand them – what we hear is also reasonable, from the point of view of the people telling it). And third, the film only runs 74 minutes – it goes far too quick, at a rapid fire pace, for just how silly things get to sink in.
The film is about Sonia (Jana Raluy) and her attempt to get her dying husband the treatment he needs that could save his life. He is sick with cancer, and needs a new drug – but that drug is not approved by their insurance provider. It’s a Friday, he’s in the hospital, and she goes to the insurance company’s office to talk to the doctor assigned to them – Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores), a man who has never seen her or her husband before, but can decide his fate. She is told to wait – and she does so for hours – only to eventually be told that the doctor has already left for the day – and to come back Monday. This turns out to be a lie – and she ends up confronting the doctor in the parking garage – the first of many confrontations she has during the course of the night. Eventually, a gun is drawn, and Sonia makes her way up the food chain of the insurance company – trying to obtain the signatures needed to help save her husband’s life. She ends up going to fancier and fancier homes and private clubs – the world the people who control her life so very different to the one she inhabits, in the very same city.
A Monster with a Thousand Heads is certainly a political movie – a message movie – about the unfeeling insurance industry, who controls the fate of people like Sonia’s husband – literally whether he’ll live or die – without really know who that person is, and not really caring. Yet, the film is not a preachy film in any way – it makes its point quickly (who, doctors like Villalba are told to deny people coverage – even if they need it – to keep costs down. The insurance company relies on people getting lost in the bureaucracy to save money. But moments like when this is explained happen quickly – almost as asides. Sonia doesn’t much care for the reasons behind why her husband is being denied – she doesn’t have time to. She is focused on action.
As Sonia, Bonet gives an excellent performance – she becomes increasingly harried and frantic as the frustrations mount – until she finally snaps. One of the great things about the direction is how Pla chooses to shoot much of it – for instance, in that parking garage sequence, when Sonia first confronts Villalba, we don’t hear anything that is said – instead, we are inside the car of a colleague of Villalba. For one thing, we don’t really need to hear what is being said – we can infer it – but for another, it allows us to see Sonia as someone like the man in that car would – not as a justifiably frustrated woman rallying against the system, but as a borderline crazy woman, screaming in a parking lot. While the film is largely sympathetic to Sonia, it does leave the door open to differing perspectives of her and her actions.
A Monster with a Thousand Heads isn’t a particularly deep film. The plot moves with expert pacing, but is admittedly more than a little silly. The characters are all defined by one or two character traits only, with no development – which makes sense, since the film takes place over the course of one night only, but doesn’t make them all that interesting. But the film is entertaining from start to finish, has an excellent performance by Raluy, and shows that Pla is a wonderful director, with a unique style to storytelling. This is hardly a great film – but it’s one that makes me curious as to what this director – and his star – will do next.