Paulino and Carmela are husband and wife, troubadours touring the countryside during the Spanish Civil War. They are Republicans, and with their mute assistant, Gustavete, they journey into... See full summary »
Paulino and Carmela are husband and wife, troubadours touring the countryside during the Spanish Civil War. They are Republicans, and with their mute assistant, Gustavete, they journey into rebel territory by mistake. They are arrested, fear a firing squad, and receive a reprieve from an Italian Fascist commander who loves the theatre. He arranges a performance for his troops, bargaining with Paulino to stage a burlesque of the republic in exchange for the actors' freedom. Will the fiery and patriotic Carmela consent? Written by
Spain, 1938: The Republicans (the good guys) are at Civil War with the Nationalist Fascists (the bad guys), led by General Francisco Franco (the baddest). Entertaining the good-guy troops is a rag-tag theatrical troupe consisting of Carmela (Carmen Maura), her lover Paulino (Andres Pajares) and their gofer, the mute Gustavete (Gabino Diego). Carmela & Co. aren't all that intellectual or idealistic, but their narcissistic hearts are basically in a politically correct place and they seem to enjoy giving the Republican guys a few laughs and the odd tear; no one appears to notice, or to mind, that they aren't really all that good.
Directed by Carlos Saura, best known for the caliente flamenco films Carmen and Blood Wedding, Ay, Carmela! has rather too much in common with Carmela's company. It's technically rag-tag and droopy, neither analytical enough to be challenging nor sensual enough to be exciting. Conceived as a cross between Bye Bye Brazil and Mother Courage, it ends up a politicized Goodbye, Dolly!. That's a movie that the dazzlingly talented, irreverent pixie Pedro Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Ner vous Breakdown) might have been able to bring off, but not the relatively flat-footed Saura.
The star of Ay, Carmela!, Carmen Maura, became famous through her work with Almodovar, of course, and she's fitfully amusing here, doing her Carmen Miranda"Susan Hayward routine, but Rafael Azcona's see-through script merely serves to expose her flaws as a dramatic actress (she's great at extremes, not so hot at normal behaviour).
The rest of the cast falls victim to that same flimsy script, which wafts toward a teary climax as easy to forecast as rain in Vancouver. For indigenous audiences - the picture has been a big hit in Spain - the movie is no doubt important and moving, presenting as it does the reality of a war hidden for many years by Franco's repression. But for the rest of us, it's merely an attempt to translate a history we already know into a kind of entertainment we've seen too many times. Ay, Carmela, and adios. Conrad Alton, Filmbay Editor.
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