Galder Gaztelu-Urruita’s class-war parable – which won TIFF’s Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award – is grotesque and compelling
THE PLATFORM (Galder Gaztelu-Urruita). 94 minutes. Subtitled. Streaming Friday (March 20) on Netflix Canada. Rating: NNNNN
The Platform is premiering exclusively on Netflix, which would usually would lead me to make my usual argument about it being a shame most people will see this bizarre, baroque masterwork on their TV or laptop rather than in a big dark space with an engaged audience. But that’s not really an option for any movie this week, is it?
So let’s wonder about something else: Is this the best time to watch a nightmarish class satire about haves and have-nots trapped together in extreme conditions, and forced to depend on one another’s good will to survive?
I say yes: we’re all going a little squirrelly this week, and it’s positively cathartic to see a worst-case scenario that can’t possibly happen.
So carve out an hour and a half and sit down with Galder Gaztelu-Urruita’s jaw-dropping first feature, which won the Midnight Madness People’s Choice award at TIFF last year and was immediately snapped up by the streaming service. I can understand why both of those things happened: as I wrote last fall, this movie has everything.
The Platform offers low comedy, political allegory, left-field twists, crowd-pleasing surprises, spectacular violence, sadism, altruism and yet more spectacular violence, all wrapped up in a high-concept horror movie that moves the premise of Cube into a merciless vertical structure. It’s grotesque and compelling, like grindhouse Buñuel. And it never blinks.
Barring a few brief flashbacks, the entire film takes place in the Pit, a massive dystopian prison with dozens – perhaps hundreds – of identical levels, each stacked atop the other. Each level holds two people. There is a number on the wall that tells them which level they’re on, and every month the inmates are shuffled up or down at random. There are no guards. People are expected to police themselves.
And now, the dystopian part. Every day, a large platform descends through each level, containing enough food for everyone… if everyone eats the same amount. Of course this does not happen those on the upper levels gorge themselves, leaving the people on the lower levels to starve.
The newest arrival, a bookish fellow named Goreng (Ivan Massagué), is horrified by this arrangement his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) has learned to work the system wherever he ends up with brutal clarity. And so begins a long debate about the best way to survive when you’re at neither the top nor the bottom of the food chain.
It’s a vivid metaphor, and screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero wring every drop of meaning out of it, establishing a simple premise and complicating it relentlessly with physical challenges and moral questions. Gaztelu-Urruita keeps the focus firmly on the characters, letting The Platform’s more abstract concerns float along in the background… right up until they’re forced into our faces.
It’s just as much a class-war parable as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, if a lot less elegant about it. But then, that’s the point.