Pepón Montero’s feature debut is an unusual ensemble comedy that keeps audiences amused with an intelligent, ironic and dark brand of humour, shying away from cheap jokes.
The latest edition of the eagle-eyed Abycine Albacete International Film Festival (read more) hosted the world premiere of The Tunnel Gang [+], the transition to film by Pepón Montero, a man who cut his teeth in the stormy world of television and was behind such series as Camera café, Plaza de España and Plutón BRB Nero (created by Álex de la Iglesia). Already at that event, ever on the lookout for interesting fledgling talents in Spanish cinema, the word on the street was that this was not just another comedy, but rather that it could boast characteristics distancing it from the typical formula. To start with, the fact that Arturo Valls, an intense actor with immense charisma and wit, was serving as a producer would seem to indicate that this, his first foray into film-funding activities, would likely not be wide of the mark.
And that is indeed the case: flanked by a cast perfectly in tune with one another, consisting of Natalia de Molina, Manolo Solo, Raúl Cimas, Neus Asensi, Marta Fernández Muro and Teresa Gimpera, among others, Valls also plays the main character in this, let’s say, “serious” comedy (though it may seem like an oxymoron), as misfortune and jocundity coexist harmoniously throughout some hilariously sobering situations. And this, following in the footsteps of the equally outstanding 3 Many Weddings (2013), gives the demanding/intelligent viewer back their faith in a genre that has recently been abused by careless directors.
The Tunnel Gang is a WhatsApp group. As you’d expect from the title, the survivors of a disaster – hailing from all walks of life – started up the group, because a stressful situation like this really brings people together (unavoidably, at least during the incident itself). They set about organising dinners in the hopes of helping each other to follow through on those changes that they swore they would make if they ever made it out alive from the titular hollow dug out between the mountains. But, just maybe, the best intentions can end up being not so commendable after all, the roles people take on only serve to disguise their own fraudulent nature and, try as we might, changing other people – and ourselves – is a bloody complicated business.
The film has carefully measured and appropriate dialogue (the screenplay was written by the director and Juan Maidagán), in which the humour stems more from double entendres and insinuation, or even from silences (the gag about a rural character coming out of the closet is priceless), than it does from pomp and fanfare. The situations it portrays are recognisable and more than moving, and its soundtrack is filled with some extremely mushy and weepy ballads by duo Pecos – a total phenomenon in 1970s Spain, garnering legions of fans – which have a dangerously catchy and resounding presence. These are just a few of the ingredients that The Tunnel Gang gets spot-on as it pays a talented and tongue-in-cheek tribute to successful disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure, leading its characters into the aftermath…
The Tunnel Gang, which is released in Spain on Friday 20 January, is a production by Pólvora Films, Estela Films, Lanube Películas and Toniconinormal AIE, in conjunction with Atresmedia Cine, Movistar+ and Canal Sur Radio y Televisión. It is being sold internationally by Filmax International and distributed locally by eOne Films Spain.