Given that Alberto Rodríguez has been focused on television projects such as ‘La peste’ or ‘Apagón’, his long absence on the big screen has been less noticeable. Six years after succeeding with the stupendous ‘The man with a thousand faces’, the Sevillian filmmaker returns, again in style, with ‘Model 77’inspired by real events and which premiered in commercial theaters after being presented in the Official Section -out of competition- at the 70th edition of the San Sebastian Festival.
‘Model 77’ not only refers to the Barcelona Model Prison, closed in 2017, but also to the massive escape that occurred in 1977. However, these historical data serve to create a fictional story that knows how to combine very well with the usual ingredients of biopics and historical cinemabecause they show an uncomfortable face of the Spanish Transition, which reminds us that democracy did not reach all levels and that, as its name indicates, The change of regime did not mean a total transformation, since there were many figures of the Franco regime who remained in their positions after the arrival of democracy and the subsequent approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
Rodríguez is not a layman on this subject, since he already addressed it in ‘The minimal island’, with Javier Gutiérrez turned into a policeman with a past related to the repression exerted by the dictatorship. In this case, the filmmaker goes back a few years, right in the years of change, between 1975 and 1978, in an environment that seemed foreign to Spanish society: prisons.
Although there has been talk of political prisoners and how they managed to get out with the arrival of democracy and the respective amnesty, there was nothing with the rest of the prisoners, those convicted of common crimes and who suffered sentences imposed by Francoist courts, lacking real guarantees. That is where Rodríguez puts the focus, who signs the script for the film together with Rafael Cobos, to which is added that there were also no minimum guarantees of health and treatment of prisoners, causing prisons to be places where human rights were constantly violated.
Hence Rodríguez makes an uncomfortable exercise of historical gaze with his proposal, which delves deeper into the gray spaces that the Spanish Transition had, which did not reach all areas of society in the same way. She does it with a superb historical drama that begins as a social portrait of Spain in the 1970s and ends up leading to a prison drama that drinks from classics such as ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ or ‘Life imprisonment’, especially in relation to the harsh conditions suffered by prisoners and how the struggle to obtain it ends up leading to leaks in the purest ‘every man for himself’ style.
Alberto Rodríguez signs a sublime prison drama that exposes the chiaroscuro of the Transition
Rodríguez is right there too, in capturing how the illusion for the arrival of democracy is diluted before the sample of a society, really, has not left its past behind. Very striking is the sibylline criticism that the film makes of those idealistic lawyers, persecuted by the dictatorship, who ended up being part of a system that chose not to look at prisoners as individuals again. On the other hand, the film pays tribute to COPEL, the prisoners’ union in Franco’s prisons between 1977 and 1979, which also reflects that fight in which Goliath, finally, did beat David.
In this wonderful combination of history and prison drama, its actors especially stand out. Javier Gutiérrez is always sublime and his Pino reflects pragmatism and how it ends up imposing itself in an uncomfortable reality, it is one of the most introverted roles of the interpreter and that could be the opposite look to his detective from ‘The minimal island’. He joins Miguel Herrán, who hadn’t been in a better performance since ‘In exchange for nothing’. Really, it is in ‘Model 77’ where it has been seen that he has dramatic material, for extreme characters, being able to carry the weight of the plot in a good part of the footage. It is true that he is very well accompanied by Gutiérrez, as well as by other solvent actors such as Fernando Tejero or Jesús Carroza, but that does not detract from the fact that This is one of his works in which, truly, he has been seen giving himself body and soul to the character.
There could be no better return to the cinema for Alberto Rodríguez, ‘Model 77’ is a splendid prison drama and an awkward return to the past, with which the filmmaker puts the focus on the darkest moments of the Transition, which he does not question, but does invite to look at it in a much more realistic way. A return also to the origins, being a thriller with the spirit of quinqui cinema, like ‘7 virgins’, in which he puts the focus on that Spain of the abandoned. A sublime proposal that already aspires to become one of the best titles of the year.
The best: How the script manages to convey the historical background that is experienced outside of prison.
Worst: His final part takes too long to arrive.