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TESIS(director/writer: Alejandro Amenábar; screenwriter: Mateo Gil; cinematographer: Hans Burmann; editor: Maria Elena Sainz de Rozas; cast: Fele Martinez (Chema), Ana Torrent (Ángela), Eduardo Noriega (Bosco), Rosa Campillo (Yolanda), Xabier Elorriaga (Jorge Castro), Nieves Herranz (Sena), Miguel Picazo (Figueroa); Runtime: 125; Las Productions del Escorpion; 1996-Spain)
“The young director has an exciting way of filming.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tesis stars Ana Torrent as Ángela, an attractive student working on her graduate thesis about violence in the audiovisual media. She accidentally stumbles upon a series of strange crimes at her university due to uncovering a snuff film. She contacts an antisocial student named Chema (Fele Martinez) who is an aficionado of porn/gore films and she talks the homely student into showing her some of his porn collection, but is repelled by the real violence in them.

Her faculty adviser helps her search the university’s film vault for some more films to see on the subject and picks up the unmarked video of a snuff film stored in a secret spot in the film library, but he is killed while watching it alone in the screening room. His death is listed as caused by an asthma attack.

The naive Ángela finds the professor while looking for him in the film library and wonders, at first, could a film such as this cause a heart attack for the viewer. She retrieves the video and brings it to Chema’s house and they watch the snuff film together. Why the killer wouldn’t have taken the tape in the first place, is never even attempted to be explained.

Chema recognizes the girl tied in the chair being beaten as Vanessa, a coed he knows who has been missing for the last two years. She is shot to death on camera and her body parts are chain sawed off by the hooded sadist on film. Chema recognizes that it is a digital camera XT-500 used, by noting the grainy quality of the film. There are cuts on the tape and such snuff films are always filmed without any editing, which Chema says must mean that the girl knew her killer and the cuts indicate that she was saying his name. He notes that the murder took place in someone’s garage, as he notices tools in the background. He also chides Ángela for being so aloof, for not learning much in film school and for not being able to observe the minute details in filmmaking. He feels rejected by her lack of attention and even asks why don’t you like me, I have money, too!

The suspense revolves around the girl-in-peril. Ángela starts getting into something that is more dangerous than what she bargained for. She gets a bad feeling when meeting her new faculty adviser, Jorge Castro (Xabier Elorriaga). He proclaims that film directors have to make violent films to please the public, and that they have every right to. His theory is: “Give the public what it wants.” She distrusts him and refuses to share with him what she has uncovered about the murder.

What the 22-year-old director, Amenábar, is trying to do, is show that the public is hypocritical in its condemnation of porn/gore films because these films wouldn’t be made if there wasn’t such a tremendous market for them.

At the university, Ángela runs across a very handsome student with an XT-500 camera. An incredulous chase scene ensues, whereby the student catches up with her in the school’s basement and tries to use his charm. He returns the copies she made of the newspaper stories about Vanessa missing, but fails to return the keys to her house that fell out of her bag while she was running.

Chema tells her to stay away from the one she ran from. He is Bosco (Eduardo Noriega) and that he is the killer. Ángela tells him that if he is so sure, why doesn’t he go to the police. Chema says that the police don’t like him and that there is no proof. Why Ángela doesn’t go to the police, herself, is a good question. There are hints that she is strangely attracted to Bosco.

Ángela’s investigation for the thesis takes her deeper into the mystery, as Bosco pays her a surprise visit in her affluent Madrid home. She has seen him with his girlfriend Yolanda and has also noticed someone has been in her room looking for the tape. She doesn’t want Bosco here, but he has already gotten her to do a tape interview about the missing Vanessa and has gotten a firm grip on who she is and what she is after. He charms her mother and her sister Sena, who falls for his angel face and his sweet talk.

Ángela is not sure that she can trust any of the people she suspects, but it has now become apparent to her that there are people on campus who have made a business out of making snuff films. Her lone investigation was not believable, as she seemed too smart not to understand the dangerous situation.

This slick suspense story works very well in capturing Ángela’s fear and following the trail to the killer, but fails to be convincing in showing how the public’s prurient interest in violent smut is the reason filmmakers make such degrading films. The young director has an exciting way of filming and keeping one engrossed in the story, thereby achieving a very curious but derivative fantasy film. It is one that is filled with many compelling psychological overtones.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”