Like a peculiar throwback to 2012, the year when both David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors came out, Haritz Zubillaga’s feature debut The Glass Coffin (El Ataúd De Cristal) is also almost entirely confined to the capacious rear end of a stretch limousine. The luxurious vehicle is ostensibly taking middle-aged actress Amanda (Paola Bontempi) to a gala event where she is to receive a lifetime career award – but as she rides in the back sipping the champagne provided, surrounded by reflective surfaces and video screens that show scenes from her breakout performance and footage of her chat show interviews, she will find herself confronted with a different, less salubrious version of her history and of herself.
Trapped in the limo, Amanda receives instructions from a taunting, distorted voice on the intercom, belonging to someone who is privy to all Amanda’s deepest secrets, and who has returned from out of the past to exact a punishing revenge. That most of this vendetta takes the form of rapidly escalating sexual humiliations – either self-enacted by Amanda or perpetrated by the masked, mute male driver – will make this difficult viewing for anyone uncomfortable with depictions of rape. Stick with it, though, and you will be driven to a strange, almost fairytale place – fitting for a film that shares its title with one of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. For at the end of the line, between shadowy woodlands and lake, Amanda will meet her own dark, monstrous half, and struggle to stifle it permanently even when its grotesque horrors are inscribed on her own face.
“What happens in the limo stays in the limo.” This line, spoken more than once in The Glass Coffin, suggests that the car’s hermetically sealed interiors are also a psychological space. For our conflicted, compromised heroine is travelling a long dark night of the soul, and seeing the parallel road that she might have taken had she not won her first film rôle as autistic young Desirée (who drowns at the end of her hilariously pretentious looking film-within-a-film Dry Land Of Fireflies). This is a journey of guilt, of denial, and of fragile self-justification – and it reveals the masks that from time to time all actors must wear.