Carlos Vermut’s “Magical Girl” isn’t unlike Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta.” In both, the dark sides of national government and financial systems are actualized in violence. In “Pieta,” a loan shark tortures those who default on their loans. In “Magical Girl,” the 2008–2014 Spanish financial crisis incites rape and murder.
“Girl” is not really about a dad trying to fulfill his daughter’s last wish; the dad, Luis (Luis Bermejo), has about 20 minutes of screen time and the daughter (Alicia, played by Lucia Pollan) maybe five. This time is crucial though — Luis, a six-month unemployed literature teacher, needs to come up with $7,000 to buy her dress. Luis is out on a stress-stroll when Barbara (Barbara Anduix) vomits all over him from her balcony; she invites him in to clean up and apologize, they have sex, and Luis recorded it. After seeing her opulent house, he blackmails her: she has to come up with $7,000 or he will tell her husband.
She prostitutes herself, presumably not for the first time, and it gets dark quick. Oliver Zoco (Miguel Insua) is less of a client and more of an algolagnic assaulter. Oliver tries to mentally prepare her for the unspeakable things he is about to do to her and the next time we see her, she is dropping off the money where Luis commanded: in the Spanish Constitution at a public library. Luis learns he got the wrong dress, needs $20,000 this time, and gives her a day. Barbara returns to Oliver’s place, but asks to enter the serpent room, which presumably could be the last layer of Dante’s hell based on the little information revealed.
In an amazing bit of writing, in a hospital bed covered in bandages, when Barbara is telling Damian (Jose Sacristan) about her assaulter, she names Luis, not Carlos — the unemployed man who blackmailed her for $27,000 did this, not the creepy Oliver. Fragile economic conditions caused the rape; the rapist carries out the crime. This by no means allows real rapists to shift blame, but it points to the facts: bad economies foster environments that lead to an increase in crime, including sex crimes.
In these rape scenes and the subsequent murders, Vermut does what Kim failed to: ground the violence in the institutions of the perpetuating country. Kim’s story felt specific rather than generalized, as if just one bad seed were the problem. Vermut, on the other hand, has the exchange of the rape money go through an actual copy of the Spanish Constitution — not very subtle, huh?
the violence largely happens offscreen, especially the prostitution and rape. Placing this out-of-frame, Vermut refuses to let viewers indulge in the violence he condemns, unlike Kim; worse, by not shooting these scenes, viewers feel as if this isn’t abnormal, as if this violence actually happens. The real violence of rape, murder, and economic destitution hits harder this way.
I suspect this movie is grounded in Spanish politics in a way that I just miss as a foreigner. Did “tin,” the safe word Oliver gives Barbara, have any connotations with the Spanish economy? The bull fighting monologue? Likewise, I know nothing of the “magical girl” anime genre, so any possible connections to that were simply lost on me. Generally speaking though, it doesn’t take a great deal of geopolitical knowledge or anime background to decipher and enjoy “Magical Girl.”