Fighting the system in 'A Monster with a Thousand Heads' (unrated)

The mounting frustrations of Sonia Bonet (Jana Raluy), a middle-aged Mexican woman with a gravely ill husband, as she navigates the impenetrable bureaucracy of an insurance company in A Monster with a Thousand Heads add up to a nightmare of bureaucratic stonewalling. Sonia is determined to secure her dying husband, Guillermo, an expensive pain medication to which he’s entitled but that the company is reluctant to provide. Her struggle is an enraging depiction of the plight of an individual fighting a corrupt, greedy system.

This gripping drama, directed by the Mexican-based Uruguayan filmmaker Rodrigo Plá, doesn’t try to clarify the details of the case in which the desperate Sonia, often accompanied by her teenage son, Dario (Sebastián Aguirre Boëda), chases down doctors and insurance executives at their homes and hangouts. The strategy is deliberate; A Monster with a Thousand Heads wants you to feel Sonia’s befuddlement and rage as though they were your own.

Her telephone calls to Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores), the brusque medic in charge of her husband’s case, are answered with the usual mechanical evasions — he’s not in; he will be available tomorrow at such and such a time — or ignored altogether. As Sonia works her way up the corporate ladder, it becomes clear that the doctor is following orders.

Pressured to produce documents and data to prove Guillermo’s eligibility, Sonia realizes that the insurance company, Alta Salud, is determined to thwart her. As she is bombarded with obfuscation, she begins to suspect that Alta Salud has already written off Guillermo, having calculated that he will die before the company has to pay up.

The film could easily have portrayed Sonia as an unstable crank, especially after she pulls a gun from her handbag. But by putting you in her shoes, and keeping down the tone of Raluy’s performance, Sonia comes across a heroic fighter who remains sympathetic even after shots are fired.

The movie’s shallow depth of field, drab palette and abrasive soundtrack exacerbate the sense that Sonia is trapped in a cold bureaucratic maze. As Sonia persists, Dario’s changing reactions to his mother’s behavior gauge his dawning realization that her cause is just. At first he appears to be embarrassed by her aggressiveness. But as he grasps the reality of the her plight, he becomes her champion.

A Monster with a Thousand Heads will make your blood boil.

Cast: Jana Raluy, Sebastián Aguirre Boëda, Hugo Albores.

Director: Rodrigo Plá.

Screenwriter: Laura Santullo

A Music Box Films release. Running time: 74 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.

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