In a Glass Cage
in a glass cage | agusti villaronga | gunter meisner | david sust | marisa paredes | nazi | contained | drama | spain | gisele echevarria | imma colomer | josue guasch | david cuspinera | ricardo carcelero | alberto manzano
Film: In a Glass Cage (Tras el cristal)
Director: Agustí Villaronga
Writer: Agustí Villaronga
Starring: Günter Meisner, David Sust and Marisa Paredes
This was a film that I only heard of from the horror movie encyclopedia until Duncan over on The Podcast Under the Stairs selected it as August 2020’s Movie Club Challenge. This is a Spanish film and the last one we were doing during this sub-set over there. I came in as blind as I could to have no preconceived notions for it. The synopsis is a former Nazi child-killer is confined in an iron lung inside an old mansion after a suicide attempt. His wife hires him a full-time nurse, a mysterious young man who is driven slowly mad by the old man’s disturbing past.
Now as the synopsis states, we start here with Klaus (Günter Meisner). He has a camera is taking pictures of a boy that it hung from the ceiling with ropes around his arms. He hits the boy with a block of wood before going up to the roof of this rundown castle like place. We also see that someone is watching him from outside. Klaus goes upstairs to kill himself and whoever is watching takes a scrapbook of things that he did.
We jump forward now and Klaus is paralyzed. He’s living in an iron lung and his wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes) is struggling to take care of him. She is writing that they’re going to need a nurse. What is interesting here though is that Griselda knows that Klaus did experiments on children during World War II, but she doesn’t know the extent. A doctor he worked with helped to procure the iron lung and they’re living in exile.
They also have a daughter, Rena (Gisèle Echevarría). She helps where she can. Things take a turn when a young man, Angelo (David Sust), locks himself in the room with Klaus. He tells him that he’s going to hire him as the nurse that Griselda is looking for or he’s going to regret it. Klaus understands and agrees to the terms of this blackmail.
Griselda doesn’t like him though. She doesn’t believe that he’s trained as a nurse, but her husband tells her not to worry about it. We see that Angelo is quite disturbed. He knows about Klaus’ past and he was the one that was spying on him. Angelo befriends Rena and will go to great lengths to exact his revenge. He takes it to the extreme when he does everything to isolate Klaus from everyone close to him in order to extract it.
That’s where I want to leave my recap as this is quite a heavy movie. Once I learned that it was going to deal with a Nazi who was a child killer, I was bracing myself. What really works for this idea though is that by having his suicide attempt fail be one of the first things we get, they put him in a vulnerable spot. It is interesting though, as we see him torturing a boy along with it though. The day that Angelo takes over and starts to care for him, we see him open up the iron lung and that it is pretty much instant that he can’t breath. Klaus is a monster, but the movie makes you feel sorry for him in this state that he is in.
Going along with this, Angelo isn’t stable from the beginning either. He has a photo of Klaus with a boy and I had an idea where this reveal was going to end up. It does feel like Stephen King must have seen this movie and borrowed elements for his novella Apt Pupil. If that is the case, he really did some changes to the idea, but keeping the core idea of having the main character interested in the former Nazi. Angelo reads the scrapbook to Klaus like he’s reading a story and it is clearly affecting both men. At first, Klaus is taking it as a punishment he deserves. Angelo sinks into madness though the deeper he gets into everything.
I do feel that the writer/director Agustí Villaronga used some interesting symbolism as well. There’s a scene early on where Angelo is looking out the window, relaying what he’s seeing to Klaus. There is a fly on the window and I almost feel like that fly is us. We’re watching as someone who can’t affect anything. What Angelo states he sees is actually something that comes into play later and is one of the stories he relays back to Klaus. Later in the movie there’s a line about Klaus being a child. He is incapable of fighting what is happening, so I can see the correlation. The last symbol to point out, Angelo starts to burn furniture in the house as well as puts up mesh wire. As he descends into his madness, the house is reflecting as it looks more like a ghetto in a war torn area of WWII.
Something else that I picked up on is that Griselda doesn’t know what her husband did. I can believe that as there are people who lived next to death camps that had no idea what was being done there. There is a bit of the ‘ignorance is bliss’ going on there, but she and Rena can’t fathom the atrocities he committed. She also picks up on that Angelo doesn’t actually have medical training. She tests him with helping Jornalera (Imma Colomer) who is their maid. She has something wrong with her and needs a shot. Angelo clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Klaus won’t reveal what he’s hiding to her though.
The last thing before I move on here would be the idea that there’s an endless cycle of atrocities being committed that turn the victims into the monster. This would lead me into spoilers here, which I don’t want to do. I can’t completely blame Angelo, because when we learn about his history, it makes sense. He does some horrible things to people that don’t deserve it. The real victims are the two boys we see as well as Rena.
I did have some issues with this movie though that I want to move into next. I know that Klaus is German and we assume his family is. They state they’re living in exile, but everyone is speaking Spanish. I’m not sure if they exile to Spain or another Spanish speaking country, but since everyone is speaking it, I can suspend disbelief that it could be another language, but just catering to their audience. What I can’t though is that this movie is a bit too slow. I’m a fan of slow-burns, but I feel there’s a bit of filler that could be trimmed. Getting this down to an hour and forty would have run better for me. There were just a few times I waned in interest a bit.
What was good though was the acting. I thought that Meisner is great as this monster that is stuck in this iron lung. It does make him vulnerable to the point where at times I’m feeling sorry for him. I had to remind myself though he is a monster still regardless of his situation now. If you can make me question this, I’m on board there. Sust is one that I’m distrustful of and then I despise as the true villain in the scheme of the story. I feel horrible for him though when I learned the truth of his back-story though so again, this is strong in his performance. Paredes was solid in her supporting role, as was Echevarría. The boys we get in the movie do fine in their limited roles and it rounded this movie out for what was needed.
Taking this next to the effects, we really don’t get a lot of them. It is more of a movie where it is story and performance based. We get what we need and seeing how an iron lung works is pretty interesting. It looks legitimate if I’m honest and I think that Klaus plays his role well. The look of the house as Angelo destroys it was solid and the cinematography was well done.
The last thing to go over would be the soundtrack of the movie. I thought it does well in making me feel uncomfortable. It is pretty subdued, so not one that I would listen to regularly, but with the subject matter we are getting it adds to that creepy vibe. I could feel it driving up my anxiety, so I have to give credit there for sure.
Now with that said, this movie is really depressing so I, of course, really dug what it was doing. As I said that it feels like King might have borrowed aspects for his story of Apt Pupil, but it is quite different. Seeing what Klaus and Angelo have gone through and how it has shaped the characters they are now is heartbreaking. The acting really helps to drive the realism home there. The movie doesn’t have a lot of effects, but I think what is was used works very well and the soundtrack really helps for the vibe of the movie. If I have issues, I think that it runs a bit long would be the only thing. I would rate this as a good movie, but with the heavy subject matter, I can’t recommend it to everyone. Also be advised, it is in Spanish so I had to watch it with subtitles as well.
My Rating: 8 out of 10