Destination Unknown – Rediscovering ‘The Telephone Box’ / ‘La Cabina’ (Spain 1972 – 35 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - November 07, 2014
Destination Unknown – Rediscovering ‘The Telephone Box’ / ‘La Cabina’ (Spain 1972 – 35 mins)

One of the best and certainly most memorable short movies ever made, the Emmy award winning ‘La Cabina’ is a Spanish masterpiece that begins more like a silent comedy, but by the end turns into a living nightmare.

Its broad daylight in the middle of a busy precinct, a nameless company installs a new phone box in the town square. A nondescript man (José Luis López Vázquez) walks by the phone box whose door is slightly ajar. He curiously enters and, as he begins to use the phone, the door slowly closes behind him, trapping him inside. After attempting to open the door he soon realises that he cannot get out. Various passers-by try in vain to help, but cannot open the door or break the soundproof glass. After a while a mysterious truck turns up and, after mechanically unbolting the phone box, proceeds to drive away with the man still trapped inside. Travelling a few miles out of the city, (where we see similar trucks escorting similar men in phoneboxes) they eventually reach their destination, where the reality of the situation is revealed and the nightmare really begins.

It must have been a simple plot to pitch: Man gets trapped in phone box. Phone box gets taken away. Man is simply left to die. The result though led to one of the most chilling climaxes to any movie I’ve ever seen.

‘La Cabina’ was one of those obscure films that used to turn up on late night television, but seems to have vanished in recent years. It probably wouldn’t work as a full-length feature due to its minimal plot, but at just over half an hour it’s near perfect. While no explanation is given as to the goings-on, the one thing I did notice was that each of the ‘victims’ we see being transported to their destination of doom, all seem to look fairly alike. They were all balding, middle-aged men with moustaches, and all dressed in suits.

As the unfortunate man; José Luis López Vázquez (resembling Alan Arkin) is very good, giving the right expressions in a mostly silent performance. His sense of dread and slow realisation (especially at the climax) convincingly conveys his sense of hopelessness. A veteran with over 200 screen appearances, ‘La Cabina’ probably remains his most famous and recognised role. Director Antonio Mercero later reteamed with Vázquez to make the interesting 1975 feature ‘Blood Stains in a New Car’, but again, it is this short feature that he is largely remembered for.

The simple premise is very easy to follow and, although it’s light on dialogue, it’s certainly heavy on atmosphere. I may overuse the word ‘memorable’ at times, but what starts out resembling a chaplinesque comedy, ultimately turns ‘La Cabina’ into a Spanish horror tale you never fully forget.

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