This week, Cult Epics brings us a new High-Definition transfer of Agustí Villaronga’s disturbing 1987 art film, In a Glass Cage (Tras El Cristal). Although the Spanish film had been released in the States before, the new 2 Disc Special Edition is an extraordinary improvement in both picture quality and bonus material. In addition to the beautifully restored feature, the set includes the trailer, footage of a Q&A with Villaronga, a featurette about the production of the film, and three shorts.
Starting with the film itself, In a Glass Cage is a stylish and controversial piece about the cycle of abuse. Inspired by the history of Gilles de Rais (a knight known as both a companion to Joan of Arc and a murderous pedophile), we follow Klaus, an ex-Nazi doctor with a penchant for sexually assaulting and torturing young boys. He lives in exile and thinks fondly of the cruel experiments he inflicted on children during the war. His crimes continue, but he is eventually overcome by shame and attempts suicide. Unsuccessful and now paralyzed from a fall, Klaus is imprisoned within an iron lung, helpless and entirely dependant on his wife, Griselda, and daughter, Rena. A live-in nurse is needed to aid the family with caring for him and a lovely, fragile-looking young man, Angelo, appears and insists on filling the position. Although his motivations are questionable and his arrival is suspicious, the wife begrudgingly allows him to stay. It doesn’t take long to identify Angelo as one of the Nazi’s young victims. Dangerously obsessed with his abuser and the childhood encounters that have come to define him, the young man violently assumes control of the family and transforms the isolated estate into a concentration camp; a smoldering nightmare of mesh sheeting, barbed wire, and death. Angelo has come to worship Klaus, to torment Klaus, and to become Klaus. To continue his horrific legacy.
I fear too many more details would do the film a disservice, but I should make it quite clear that the subject matter (i.e., the Holocaust, pedophilia, the torture and murder of children) would be too upsetting for many viewers. Some scenes are quite disturbing and being led by the hand into sympathizing with a Nazi pedophile is uncomfortable. However, the difficult material is so artfully presented (both the imagery and the circular themes that drive the plot) that it would be a crime to label In a Glass Cage as mere exploitation. The color scheme of oppressive blue tones with the occasional spot of brilliant red is quite striking. The characters are haunting. The setting is both lavish and increasingly claustrophobic. If I haven’t already scared you away, I recommend giving this beautiful and painful film a chance.
The Special features
The featurette and Q&A on the second disc are a bit repetitive when watched back to back, but they both provide a good deal of insight into the process of this film’s creation. Check them out for interesting discussion about the director’s fascination with Gilles de Rais, the source of the severe color scheme, the selection of time period, casting decisions, and more.
As for the three short films (created very early in Villaronga’s career), the only masters available are VHS tapes from the 80s. They suffer from a good deal of both audio and visual noise, but the films are rather crudely produced as well. They’re less enjoyable than interesting for both their rarity and the context they provide for the director’s body of work.
Anta Mujer (1976) A woman’s surreal journey to sainthood via sexual and supernatural submission. You can expect lots of figures walking aimlessly in the sand in formless white gowns and some dodgy effects. Still, the concept is ambitious and there are some impressively bizarre moments.
Laberint (1980) Three nude bodies the color of stone are conjoined in an abstract cave-like setting. They undulate erotically and move, always touching, as one creature. It’s a wonderfully creepy and well-executed dance performance rather than a narrative. Out of the three short films, this is the strangest and the only one I’d recommend.
Al Mayurca (1980) A return to the surreal religious imagery and gown-clad desert wandering of Anta Mujer. However, the modern age invades the odd biblical scenes with parallels in “reality” this time and that makes for a more interesting watch. You can see the director’s fascination with bold symbolic color, uneven balances of power, and sexuality in all three of these shorts. Themes that are no less evident in his later work.
Addressing the release overall, the film is excellent, the transfer is crisp, and the bonus material is worth a look. I think any cinephile with a strong stomach would benefit from adding the new edition of In a Glass Cage to their collection.
In a Glass Cage releases today on Blu-ray/DVD.