Curious departure from the usual Saura, retrospectively almost a fitting tribute
Another of those films in which young people - more or less ten year olds Alejandro Martínez and Dafne Fernández - begin to discern the world they live in with an awakening consciousness.
In this case 'Manu' is sent to a house full of relatives in Murcia, eastern Spain, while his parents work out a divorce. The house is peopled by some rather strange types, such as Tío Juan, who fantasises in being a painter, Tío Fernando, who is a cake-maker, plays the cello and is homosexual, and Tío Emilio, who has a biology laboratory deep down in the bowels of the building. If we add the elder cousin is dating a yonqui and that El Abuelo is three-quarters senile, recites poetry and disappears in his pyjamas, one readily fathoms some rather weird storytelling.
Saura manages it well, precisely because his story and directing keep everything skillfully in perspective, as well as the fact that he keeps the two children right in the middle of the angle and focussing of both the story itself and of course the filming. His choice of children is superb: both Alejandro as 'Manu' and Dafne as Fuensanta (literally `holy fountain'), hold your attention, above all for their ingenuously natural performances. Dafné Fernández one year later was under Saura's orders as Rosario, Goya's granddaughter, in what was to be somewhat fatefully titled for Paco Rabal `Goya in Bordeaux' - the city in which our grand old actor finally died.
I regret somewhat the too brief appearance by Rafael Ramírez; perhaps because I loved his performance in the TV series `Juncal' in which he worked so well with Rabal, the best `truhan' that Spanish films have ever produced.
This film is almost like a tribute to Paco Rabal, who was born in Murcia, a splendid, beautiful province of Spain, from its inland highlands sweeping down to the sparkling Mediterranean. His performance is quite good - for what there was of it: he doesn't appear until we are an hour into the film.
<From the gardens of Murcia, I bring you a flower..> he recites, while his mind bends and twists through barely-remembered, mostly forgotten vague shadows. He calmly continues eating his soup, despite the fact that Tío Emilio has swept everything away in a fit of rage.
Massó's music seems to limit itself to paying tribute to, or simply plagiarising, Joaquín Rodrigo, Fernando Sor and Tárrega, and the fragments of cello were indeed partitures by Bach.
There are certain other symbolisms present - such as when the Murcia Cathedral solemnly strikes five o'clock in the afternoon, and fragments of Alberdi's famous poem come to mind. This is absolutely in keeping with the intimist angle taken up by Saura for this little story, rather than the surrealism to which we are more accustomed from this Aragonese director.
<How beautiful is life, how beautiful is the sea; how well one is when one is well> muses the old grandfather on the beach.
Yes, but poor little 'Manu' would have preferred to stay with Fuensanta the rest of his life....
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