An elderly man returns to Spain after visiting the US during the Gold Rush and losing his fortune. He returns because his son has died leaving two daughters, and the son has left a note stating that one of the two is a bastard child. The grandfather hopes to find out which is his true granddaughter. Written by
EL ABUELO (The Grandfather) began as a 1954 novel by Benito Pérez Galdós and was adapted for the screen by writer/director José Luis Garci in 1998, a year when it was nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar. It is a period piece of epic proportions, an immensely beautiful work both visually and emotionally, that assures the film's becoming a beloved standard in the cinematic library.
Don Rodrigo de Arista Potestad (Fernando Fernán Gómez, the brilliant Peruvian actor from such films as 'Butterfly', 'Belle Epoque', 'All About My Mother, etc) is a crusty old aristocrat who has been in America for the Gold Rush who returns to Spain (a small town of Jerusa) when his son dies. He concern is about a letter his son wrote to him that one of his two granddaughters was sired by another man, an artist, and the old man is determined to find out which one of the granddaughters should rightfully inherit is name and his money. He arrives to meet Dolly (Cristina Cruz) and Nelly (Cristina Cruz) and their beautiful mother Doña Lucrecia (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo), a woman who has survived emotional hardships but has generously favored the small town with gifts while giving her daughters in home schooling by the intelligent, sensitive Don Pío Coronado (Rafael Alonso) who has been forsaken by his own family. The once butler of the home Senén Corchado (Agustín González) has been freed to become an oily capitalist, eager to squander the family money.
Don Rodrigo (Abuelo) challenges the family to maintain the honor of his name, becomes fast friends with Don Pío, and the two set about to discover whether it is Dolly or Nelly that is the true bloodline granddaughter. The manner in which the investigation proceeds includes the warm relationship Abuelo forms with the girls, the way he decides the future of Lucrecia, and the bonding he forms with Pío. It is Pío who challenges Abuelo with the question of which is more important, honor or love, and it is this question that suffuses the resolution of the story with surprises and with extraordinary tenderness.
The actors are all superb with special kudos to Fernando Fernán Gómez and Rafael Alonso. The cinematography of the coastlines of Spain is breathtakingly beautiful and the manner in which Raúl Pérez Cubero frames his images glows. The original musical score is by Manuel Balboa whose love theme is hauntingly played by both piano and orchestra: the moments of music by Satie (Gymnopédie) and Elgar (the Nimrod variation from Enigma Variations) are beautifully performed by the Madrid Orchestra under the baton of Ángel Gil Ordóñez. The film is long (well over two hours) and there are some synchrony defects in the spoken soundtrack (?dubbing for the granddaughters' voices?), but these are minor flaws in an eloquently beautiful film. In Spanish with English subtitles. Grady Harp
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