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Review by Dan Odenwald
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Tuesday, 10/17/2006, 9:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema
Spanish with English subtitles
A DEVASTATING portrayal of love ripped asunder, Electroshock is a tearjerker that will resonate long after you’ve left the theater. Based on a true story, the setting is 1970’s Spain under the oppressive right-wing regime of Generalissimo Franco.
In a bucolic town, we meet Pilar and Elvira, two lovely schoolteachers, bookish, kind and desperately in love. But Fascist Spain wasn’t so worldly back then, and the story is a gut-wrenching testimonial to the power of hate and fear to destroy same-sex love.
The embodiment of evil takes the form of Pilar’s mother, played with icy stoicism by Julieta Serrano. A wealthy society lady, she refuses to let her daughter live as a lesbian and has her forcibly incarcerated in an insane asylum.
Pilar, played with touching sensitivity by Carmen Elias, is physically and mentally crushed by a series of electroshock treatments she endures while images of naked women flash on a screen in front her. The so-called reward-and-punishment ”cure” does nothing more than leave Pilar a quivering shell of her former self. Those were ”sad days for psychiatry,” remarks one prophetic character toward the end of the film.
While Pilar undergoes the hellish treatments, Elvira, (the moving and evocative Susi Sánchez), is forbidden to see her lover. For many years, she’s uncertain of her whereabouts. Desperate and heartbroken, Elvira searches for Pilar by writing letters to every asylum in Spain. Her letters go unanswered.
Weighted with emotional gravity, Electroshock grants a reprieve of sorts when Pilar’s father intervenes and releases her daughter to Elvira. The narrative respite is brief however. Like a proud bird with a broken wing, Pilar is helpless and doomed, and the film follows her descent into suicidal despair.
Electroshock is not for the faint of heart. It’s designed for audiences willing to do the serious heavy-lifting of observing the vast capacities of human cruelty. When we’re not outraged over the medieval treatments inflicted on Pilar, we’re reduced to anguish over the damage it causes. The image of a trapped goldfish in a tiny bowl in the psychiatrist’s office is an apt one — no one will escape the trauma of this film.
Graciously, the story ends on a note of redemption. In a dramatic courtroom finale, secrets are revealed and forgiveness proffered. But the psychic injuries in Electroshock — captivatingly rendered by Pilar and Elvira — are real and unforgettable. — DO