The Realm opens inconspicuously – a man in a suit finishes a phone call while staring out to sea. The camera tracks him as he crosses the sand, walks up the grass to a restaurant, through the back door into the kitchen where he lifts a platter of shrimp and strides into the dining room of the restaurant.
Oh, the audience thinks, a waiter.
The man takes a seat at a table of well-dressed, late-to-middle-aged men who are all hurling slurs at a figure on TV.
Oh, the audience thinks, not a waiter.
Not a waiter indeed. The man the camera near constantly tracks throughout the film from behind is Manuel López-Vidal (Antonio de la Torre), a major player in a Spanish political party. He also happens to be their future scapegoat.
The members of the party enjoy luxurious, extravagant lives courtesy of bribes, inducements and thoroughly shady deals. Manuel is the man who makes most of it possible; with his imposing presence and quick-witted conversational skills, he is a figure to be reckoned with. When the unscrupulous actions of the party are exposed by the media, the party works hard to ensure the entirety of the blame falls on the shoulders of Manuel.
Manuel’s determination to clear his name and wriggle out of the scapegoat position he’s been forced into means the length he will go to is limitless – he’ll even break up the party and bring everyone crashing down with him if he has to.
The Realm is part political thriller and worryingly, part realism. With widespread political corruption a current hot topic in Spain, the film has resonated with its native audience and will undoubtedly find the same success abroad.
Its relevance to the current political climate is not its only key to success in the cinemas – director Rodrigo Sorogoyen has used inventive techniques to create an immersive experience for audiences. Hectic montages of Manuel in cars, on phone calls, striding through offices, striding through corridors and in heated, confrontational conversations create a feeling of a collective manic fever dream. This energy is heightened by the “electropop” score which made this reviewer feel as she was stuck inside a night club and the DJ was refusing to drop the beat for two hours straight.
The performances in The Realm are dynamic and magnetic, but may not be enough to captivate audiences’ attention for the entirety of the two-hour running time.
Sorogoyen’s follow-up from May God Save Us (2016), The Realm might just be the political thriller of the year. A must-watch for anyone needing confirmation that politics is just another word for organised crime.
The name of the political party never is revealed, as well as if it’s right-wing or left-wing.