The World Cinema Wednesday choice for this week was recommended to me by a good friend. Yesterday. Which was a stroke of good luck.

Co-written by Juan Carlos Medina and Luiso Berdejo, with the former also making his feature directorial debut, Insensibles is an intriguing, sometimes disturbing, film that uses two timelines to tell one main story. The finale may be seen a mile away, which is the one big negative, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the journey.

Alex Brendemühl plays David, a man who finds out that he needs a bone marrow transplant, which leads to him finding out that his parents aren’t actually his biological parents. Despite protests, David must find out exactly where he came from, and whether or not his real parents are still around. The other main story strand concerns a number of children being given medical treatment in 1930s Spain. The children do not feel pain, which makes them dangerous to themselves and others. It also makes them useful, as we see from how they are used by the military over the next 30 years.

The best thing about Insensibles is the idea at the heart of it. The first half, in which the children are shown unwittingly causing harm to themselves and others, is so dark and enthralling that everyting else loses any impact. In fact, all of the scenes set during the earlier time period work better than the scenes of David trying to examine his parentage in the present, and I’m not sure whether or not the film could have been improved by somehow editing the whole thing differently (perhaps even keeping viewers more in the dark as to which timeline was which until the finale).

Brendemühl does fine in his role, and Tómas Lemarquis is chilling and memorable as the older incarnation of one of the children unable to feel pain, but one of the best performances comes from Derek De Lint, playing a doctor who tries to help the children by showing them how pain and suffering affects others.

It’s all put together well enough by Medina, but there’s a certain something lacking. Perhaps he and Berdejo envisioned things a bit differently as they crafted their script, or perhaps the third act is supposed to be more of a surprise than it turns out to be. Whatever the problem, the final result isn’t quite as good as it could have been. But it’s still a good film, well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the macabre looking out for something a bit removed from the norm.

DIRECTOR: JUAN CARLOS MEDINA
WRITER: JUAN CARLOS MEDINA, LUISO BERDEJO
STARS: ALEX BRENDEMÜHL, TÓMAS LEMARQUIS, DEREK DE LINT
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: SPAIN/FRANCE/PORTUGAL

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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