Classic Film Kid: La Cabina (1972)
Hello everyone, the Classic Film Kid here with another review that is likely bewildering you at the moment. This stemmed from having lunch at home and stumbling across a short film that had been uploaded onto YouTube entitled La Cabina (it’s Spanish) from 1972. I remember watching it and being utterly mesmerised by what I saw, and keep in mind, this was from a very bad-quality bootleg on YouTube with not the best sound. Usually visual and audible flaws really damage the experience for me, as I despise sub-par projection when I go to the cinema, but if anything here it enhanced it. It is a beautiful and morbid little film that is essentially one half-an-hour scene involving a man stuck in a telephone box. Surprisingly, for a film as simple as it is, I can get a lot of talking points from it – there is so much ambiguity that chills you to the bone, and a lot of feelings are evoked.
To describe it, first I need to say this – its premise actually feels quite a lot like a Pixar short. Now, there aren’t any lamps chasing footballs or crazy snowmen drilling holes inside snow globes, I’m reminded of them in this film’s sheer beautiful simplicity – it never deviates from its premise, there is no unnecessary baggage. That’s one of the benefits of a short film, as you don’t have enough time to pad anything out. It starts out very mundane – a man dropping his son off presumably on a school trip, or something along these lines. He then goes to make a call inside a public telephone booth – and can’t get out. The really dark thing about this is that the man leaves the door wide open when he enters to make the call – as he puts the change in, the door slowly swings shut ominously and we hear a sound similar to a key being turned in a lock, as if to indicate that this is now locked with no way out. (Edit: This is future me editing this article, having just been reminded that the man doesn’t actually make a call, the phone starts ringing of its own accord and he goes in to answer it). Makes it all the more ominous, don’t you think? Even the man inside looks at it in mild confusion, but doesn’t think much of it – little does he know what will happen, to him he’s just a door shutting. It’s so much more than that, but then again, it’s not. I’m trying to work a way around this so I don’t spoil it for all of you, but just know that it’s a film that’s foreshadowing is almost subliminal, yet once everything becomes clear, it’s scary as hell.
When I say scary, now obviously I’ve covered films such as the classic thriller Jaws and, of course, personal favourite Coraline which rely on horror. La cabina showed how horror can be utilised a little differently – Jaws uses the constant building of tension, Coraline uses its warped scary imagery and implication, and la cabina relies on the humiliation of the situation. We have the general public laughing at the man as he is trapped in the box, which is quite daunting and embarrassing, naturally, and it escalates so much that a fire engine carries the cubicle away with the man inside, for him to continue to be taunted. Never once in this film is everyone else affected like in Jaws, or an entire life threatened by a monstrosity like Coraline’s is. This is all being played down on one man, and even at the end when we find out what’s going on (again, no spoilers, I want you to seek this out for yourself) there’s no earth-shattering revelation. The ambiguity of it all is amazing – it leaves you to decide what’s truly going on.
Now since there isn’t much going on plot-wise, this film relies a lot on establishing shots and subtle acting touches to really make the whole thing, and indeed it delivers on this front too. We get some really nice shots that contrast each other, with wide takes of a large city road, and then going back to within the confines of a tiny box and seeing this man scared, worried, embarrassed. People jeering and laughing at him and he’s only able to smile back. It’s that dramatic, and the camera work together with the acting just sells the scenario.
The second half of the film is basically that one car ride and while it may start to become just a little tedious, the man’s performance just keeps it on edge. The actor’s name is José Luis López Vázquez – while he’s sadly no longer with us – he was brilliant in this. His filmography is pretty much all work in his native Spanish, so if you’re interested in Spanish cinema, he’s a name to look out for. To be honest, that’s about it. This was a really hard review to do because 1) I’ve never tackled a short film before and 2) I wanted to refrain from spoilers, so hopefully, I’ve done it justice. However, I didn’t really think of this review as a review, but rather something that promotes this film – I think it’s one that’s got lost among a wave of other well-known shorts, and I even did a Google search for best short films just to see what came up, and this one was nowhere to be seen. That’s a massive shame – it’s one that deserves attention. It’s not especially challenging, in fact, the best thing going for it is that it’s as simple and accessible as it is. If anyone can find a good copy of this one, I implore you to give it a watch. It’s only half-an-hour, but it’s not one that you’ll be forgetting in a hurry. And this is why I feel incredibly proud to give La Cabina a 10/10.
I’ve only ever given one of those scores out before, and that was to Coraline. I don’t think La Cabina will be in my Top 10 favourites like that film, but it earns a ten because I could not see a single flaw. Even the slight tedium at the end is redeemed by Vazquez’s amazing performance. Thanks for reading everyone, your support is really appreciated. I’ve done a rough map-out of what I want to write and do before the end of 2019, and some of these include Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece Spirited Away, a look at the failed Doctor Who spin-off Class, and a review of a certain dark fantasy film that’s been long overdue – since February, in fact. I’ll leave you to ponder what that might be. This is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!