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A delightful, endearing, and fun film which is also intriguing and thought-provoking, like the terrific short novel on which it is based. Not surprisingly, the film was nominated for 14 Goyas Spain's equivalent of the Oscars and won eight.
The star-studded cast reads almost like a Who's Who of Spanish filmmaking in the early 1990s, featuring enshrined greats like Fernando Fernán Gómez and Juan Diego alongside then-youthful favorites like Gabino Diego and Javier Gurruchaga.
I would highlight that the excellent Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida, for many years now a regular in Hollywood as well as Europe, delivers an absolutely delicious performance as the Jesuit priest Almeida (no, no relation!). The intellectual Jesuits have always been suspect to the more conservative establishment in the Catholic Church, and Almeida plays the role with such subtle ambiguousness an ambiguity that is absolutely key to developing the more complex elements of the film's plot that long after the credits have rolled you will still be wondering about and arguing over his place in the story.
The film is also very well shot and expertly set, creating a suggestive yet realistic ambiance that is up to the level of the plot and the acting.
In perhaps his best role ever, Gabino Diego is the young Felipe IV, the homely Habsburg monarch to whom he bears a surprising resemblance. Felipe is dumbstruck by the brief sight of a naked prostitute the Court favorite because of her exquisite beauty which suddenly leads him to realize that he has never seen the Queen, his own lovely wife, in the buff. Why? Because although ribaldry and bawdiness were the norm for the commoners of 17th-Century Spain, the nobility and royals only had sex for procreation's sake at least with their spouses with floor-length nightgowns tailored with a conveniently located opening at the level of the pelvis to avoid the sins of concupiscence. Something that Felipe's equally young Bourbon Queen finds hard to understand, but she acquiesces to the customs of these oddly pious and dour Spaniards. Surrounded as he is by very conservative priests who constantly protect (and isolate) him as one of the visible heads of the Church in Spain, the naive King needs more than a little help to arrange a romantic tryst alone with the Queen, without the overbearing and antilibidinous presence of their omnipresent escorts and attendants. It is this entertaining and intriguing "foreplay" that is the backbone of the film.
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