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Why is death and violence so fascinating? Is it morally correct to show violence in movies? If so, is there a limit to what we should show? That's the subject of Ángela's examination paper. She is a young student at a film school in Madrid. Together with the student Chema (who is totally obsessed with violent movies) they find a snuff movie in which a young girl is tortured and killed. Soon they discover that the girl was a former student at their school... Written by
Mattias Pettersson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Tesis is a film about a film student writing an assignment on violence on film, which is appropriate because Tesis is itself, an assignment written by Alejandro Amenábar on violence and the state of the Spanish film industry. Amenábar has packed the film with nods towards the industry, and the reasons why it isn't working and this ties in excellently with the central theme of violence. The director professes that Spain's film industry will not be a success until it gives the people what it wants - and that theory in it's purest form is snuff films. Snuff films don't have any production values and exist purely to please their audience on an aesthetic level - and the snuff industry in this film is in a boom period! The idea of violence and why we find it is fascinating has made the base for many films, and it serves this one excellently too. The scene at the start sums all up; we open in a train station where someone has committed suicide. The station guards are trying to ensure that nobody sees the horror, and yet there's scores of people surrounding the tracks and Amenábar makes sure that even you - the viewer - want to survey the horror for yourself.
I don't know how successful Tesis was in it's native Spain, but it's certainly one of the best films to come out of the country in recent memory, and a lot of the reason for that is that the director has heeded his own advice and given the audience what they want. Rather than try and be deep and complex like many other foreign films, Tesis is a straight thriller, not unlike what would come out of America's thriving industry, and the fact that Amenábar has knowingly accepted what his film is and hasn't tried to make it any more than that does it no end of favours. The film follows a relaxed pace, and the basic structure follows a mystery, which is being unravelled by two students; Angela, the one doing the thesis and Chema; someone she met because of his infamous love for violent films. The way that Amenábar keeps the film flowing steadily ensures that we are really able to get into the mystery, and this makes the film far more thrilling overall. The film is about snuff films, but it shouldn't be mistaken for one itself. The focus is often kept away from violence, and the director only shows us just enough of the snuff to whet our appetites.
The film's main point is to show us the mystery, but the characters are never made to take a backseat. The two central figures are given time to grow as people so that we can really get to know them, and even feel for them. In many thrillers, the characters and the mystery can't be weighed up evenly; but despite the fact that he's only a young filmmaker, Amenábar has shown his brilliance by doing it to perfection. The characters actually compliment the mystery, in fact, because at times it flows because of who the characters are. This really allows the film to become compelling, and this is also where most of the true greatness lies. The characters are brought to life by a great cast of young actors. The beautiful Ana Torrent takes the lead role, and is joined by débutant Fele Martínez, who plays her opposite number. These two have an awkward chemistry, and this is capitalised on brilliantly. The third lead is played by Eduardo Noriega, who would go on to make a splash in Amenábar's Open Your Eyes a year later.
Tesis doesn't get mentioned all that often in discussions about great horror/thrillers - and I really have no idea why. This is a first rate film, and really shows its cast and director's talent. The Spanish film industry may be on the decline - but it wont be if they can pump out a few more films like this one!
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