Joaquin (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is a thirtyish paraplegic who lives in a large and beautiful, terraced house in Buenos Aires.
His physically active life ended after a vehicular accident that left him not only with useless legs but also without his wife and young daughter, and forever tied to his wheelchair.
He is lonely and a chain smoker, but has a good knowledge of electronics and spends his days tinkering in his workplace in the basement, accessible through a mechanized platform.
The Argentine film “At the End of the Tunnel” opens on a sad note: Joaquin’s dog Casimiro, perhaps his daughter’s pet, is ailing and could not even stand up. It is almost Christmas, and one rainy night a beautiful girl, Berta (Clara Lago), and her daughter Betty, knock on his door demanding to see the upstairs bedroom with a terrace that is supposed to be for rent. Initial sharp words lead to a peaceful truce, and the strangers are allowed to stay.
Joaquin’s house is very near Banco República (Republic Bank), and one day he overheard, through a very thin wall separating his house from the next one, that a group of hard core criminals were digging an underground tunnel from their end, to the bank’s safety deposit boxes.
This tunnel passes underneath his house, right under his basement. He monitors the group’s activities closely and learns of their modus operandi.
He also discovers a shocking fact: the commissioner of police force is deeply into the criminal activity.
Will Joaquin muster courage to bust the criminal’s evil intentions into the open? Summon the police to avert the robbery? But how to do this, when their chief is involved? Meantime, his relationship with Berta is undergoing a transformation that exhilarates yet frustrates him.
What is the best action to take? Will he need to get them out of the house for his peace of mind and to send them out of harm’s way?
Why did 6-year-old Betty, the daughter, suddenly become mute these past two years? Yet she bonds quickly with Casimiro, who, miraculously, seems to come alive and heal with Betty’s ministrations and whisperings. What has she been saying to the dog?
The tunnel of the title of course ostensibly refers to the actual digging that the gang is doing.
Yet there is a more difficult tunnel in Joaquin’s psyche that is more labyrinthine, brought about by the loss of the use of his lower limbs and loved ones, where self-pity and desperation abound. Will he be able to claw his way out into the light?
The movie is also about corruption reaching the higher levels of command, a sad commentary that is all-too familiar for us. The often somber lighting of the movie adds to the sinister ambience throughout the scenes.
Many heart-stopping moments will keep the viewers at the edge of their seats, unable to breathe, afraid that their slight movement might tip over the balance for the main character. Indeed, when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. Never has this been proven true in Joaquin’s life.
Yet, at the end of the literal and metaphorical dark, cavernous tunnel, viewers will realize the answer to all the tangled questions in their minds, a solution that makes this a deep, satisfying and entertaining pelicula. —CONTRIBUTED
Pelicula, the Spanish film festival organized by the Instituto de Cervantes de Manila, is running till Oct. 15 at Greenbelt 3 Cinemas in Makati. Visit manila.cervantes.es.