You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


The maxim "no pain, no gain" finds twisted expression in medical chiller "Painless."

With: Alex Brendemuhl, Ilias Stothart, Mot Stothart, Tomas Lemarquis, Derek De Lint, Bruna Montoto, Liah O'Prey, Juan Diego, Angels Poch. (Spanish, Catalan, German, English dialogue)

The maxim “no pain, no gain” finds twisted expression in medical chiller “Painless.” This harrowing study of tykes born without any sensation of pain turns torture-porn conventions inside out while fashioning an allegory on modern Spanish history. Debuting helmer Juan Carlos Medina propels his intriguing concept to its tragically inevitable denouement with considerable mastery. Unsparing but not indiscriminate in dishing out gore and suffering, he endlessly toys with audience sensibilities while intellectually probing the anesthetizing effects of war and dictatorships. Pic reps a choice item for genre fests and buyers of classy Euro-horror.

A startling prologue featuring two girls playing with fire reps the pic’s haunting fusion of the visceral and symbolic. In contempo Spain, neurosurgeon David Martell (Alex Brendemuhl) survives a car accident unscathed, but is diagnosed with lymphoma. He turns to his parents (Juan Diego, Angels Poch) for a bone-marrow transplant, but they surprisingly refuse to oblige. It prompts him to uncover shocking secrets about human experimentation and political torture in a prison in Canfranc.

Flashbacks lead to a village in the Pyrenees, circa 1931. A dozen or so children are born with damaged neural systems, resulting in utter insensitivity to pain. Deemed a danger to society and to themselves, they are placed in solitary confinement. The arrival of German-Jewish doctor Holzmann (Derek De Lint) brings hope of humanitarian rehabilitation. Holzmann singles out Benigno (Ilias Stothart) for his unique gifts, as demonstrated by the cold precision with which the boy performs surgery on a puppy. Things go awry when an older Benigno (Mot Stothart) reaches puberty, and his love for fellow-patient Ines (Liah O’Prey) is thwarted. In 1944, when the Nazis move in, Benigno is reinvented as the monstrous figure Berkano (Tomas Lemarquis).

Spanning the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, the film depicts the brutality and brutalizing effect of fascism in a manner not dissimilar to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The self-destructive nature of civil war is allegorized here in the children’s self-wounding instincts, and visualized grotesquely as bleeding sores. Medina’s technique is astonishing in that he makes auds wince at what the protags cannot feel, then goes one step beyond to demonstrate on metaphorical and psychological levels how easily this condition can be channeled into sociopathic sadism and imperviousness to human suffering.

The screenplay, co-written with Luiso Berdejo, who penned “REC,” offers no explanation on the causes of the tykes’ malady, and as the story progresses, it falls back on genre conventions. Still, in juxtaposing the protags’ immunity from pain with their primal longing for love and basic kindness, the pic maintains tension over their fate, culminating in a deeply humane and moving finale. Child actors are cast to look their part, but perfs are just adequate.

Tech package is polished in spite of the modest budget, turning the 1930s village and dungeon-like asylum into a mise-en-scene that feels medieval in its implied threat through a sublime dance macabre of light and shadow choreographed by lenser Alejandro Martinez.

Popular on Variety



Production: A Distrib Films (in France)/A Contracorriente Films (in Spain) release of a Les Films D'Antoine, Tobina Films, Roxbury Pictures production in association with A Contracorriente Films, Fado Films. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Antoine Simkine, Francois Congnard, Miguel Angel Faura. Co-producers, Adolfo Blanco, Luis Galvao Teles. Directed by Juan Carlos Medina. Screenplay, Luiso Berdejo, Medina.

Crew: Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Alejandro Martinez; editor, Pedro Reibeiro; music, Johan Soderqvist; production designer/art director, Inigo Navarro; sound (Dolby Digital), Frederic Le Louet; second unit director, Lluis Quilez; casting, Luci Lenox, Pep Arthengol. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept., 9, 2012. Running time: 96 MIN.

With: With: Alex Brendemuhl, Ilias Stothart, Mot Stothart, Tomas Lemarquis, Derek De Lint, Bruna Montoto, Liah O'Prey, Juan Diego, Angels Poch. (Spanish, Catalan, German, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Constance Wu

    Will Constance Wu Ever Watch 'Hustlers'?

    Despite her leading role, Constance Wu has never seen “Hustlers” and, spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely that she will. Wu explained why she doesn’t want to watch the film to Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “This is crazy,” Kaling said in the beginning of the interview. “I [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Outmatches 'Charlie's Angels' at International Box Office

    Disney and 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” sped ahead of fellow new release, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” at the international box office. Director James Mangold’s racing drama collected $21.4 million from 41 foreign markets, representing 67% of its overseas rollout. “Ford v Ferrari” also kicked off with $31 million in North America, bringing its global [...]

  • Mindy Kaling Constance Wu

    Mindy Kaling, Constance Wu on Working With Women Directors: 'Nothing Felt Exploitative'

    Constance Wu (“Hustlers”) and Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) discussed the importance of women directors during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” Kaling began the interview by acknowledging how having female directors on “Hustlers” and “Late Night” benefited the films. “[‘Hustlers’ director Lorene Scafaria] doesn’t come from a place of, ‘Oh, let’s humanize this [...]

  • Mindy Kaling Actors on Actors

    Why Mindy Kaling Turned to Social Media to Find the Lead of Her Netflix Series

    Constance Wu (“Hustlers”) and Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) explained how the internet helped expand the casting pool for their projects during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” Wu began the interview: “When I did ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and they were looking for actors, it was crazy how many people said, ‘Well, there are [...]

  • Christian Bale and Matt Damon in

    Box Office: 'Ford v Ferrari' Races to First Place, 'Charlie's Angels' Collapses

    “Ford v Ferrari” left its box office competitors in the dust as the historical sports drama from Disney and 20th Century Fox sped its way to $31 million in North America. Directed by James Mangold and starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, “Ford v Ferrari” debuted ahead of expectations thanks to strong word-of-mouth from moviegoers. [...]

  • In ‘Motherless Brooklyn,’ Edward Norton Takes

    In 'Motherless Brooklyn,' Edward Norton Takes on Timeless Power Struggles

    In Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” the ‘50s-set New York noir detective story he produced, directed, wrote and stars in, politics are never far from the surface. But they’re not the obvious parallels to any racist autocrats from New York of modern times, but instead focus on more timeless politics – the way disabled people and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content