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20 centímetros (2005)
Not for all tastes
After a promising short film ("Hongos") and an excellent feature length debut ("Piedras"), director-writer Ramón Salazar surprises all with "20 centímetros", a compelling musical which won't leave anyone indifferent.
Certainly this is not for all tastes. Instead of taking the easy way out of mixing musical and comedy, Salazar chooses drama and depicts the sub-world of prostitution with such a raw perspective that many people felt extremely uncomfortable during the film. "20 centímetros" is, after all, the love child of Von Trier's "Dancer in the dark" and early Almodóvar. As I said, not for all tastes.
Mónica Cervera, who was in Salazar's previous directorial efforts, is the star of the film, and she really shines in her one-woman-show. She sings her heart out and gives a terrific performance as Marieta, the transvestite hooker who dreams musical sequences in which she is the sole star. Other cast members include Lola Dueñas, Rossy de Palma and Najwa Nimri in brief roles, and also Pilar Bardem in a cameo. Unknowns Concha Galán and Miguel O'Dogherty play pivotal roles in this eclectic musical. Pablo Puyol, Marieta's leading man, plays Reponedor, a simpleton, gracefully and shows that he could surprise everybody if he's given the right chance.
What I liked most were the musical numbers, though. Some of them are extremely effective in narrative terms "Parole, parole, parole", and others are so well made that it doesn't matter if they don't add anything story-wise ("Quiero ser santa" is a prodigy of make-up, scenery and costume). My favorite, however, is the one in which Marieta and Reponedor sing a song each at the same time.
If you are willing for something new give "20 centímetros" a chance, specially if you like musicals and you are not afraid to watch some of the most marginal strata of our society. Also, watch it for the great performance of Mónica Cervera, an actress that could be huge in the future.
Gómez Pereira, back to top form
Manuel Gómez Pereira was one of the finest Spanish directors in the 90's, with such comedies as "Boca a Boca" or "El Amor Perjudica Seriamente la Salud". His latest projects, however, tanked ("Off Key" was a failure both economically and artistically) or simply didn't deliver ("Cosas que Hacen que la Vida Valga la Pena" was plain and average).
"Reinas" is Pereira's return to top form, with a clever and engaging plot which uses the celebration of the first gay wedding in Spain as a macguffin to tell the story of six gay men who are about to marry and their parents, especially their mothers. The film avoids clichés in an intelligent way, so the gay sons are portrayed as people from different social strata and conditions. The actors also avoid the affected mannerisms with which gays are often portrayed in cinema. Special mention to Gustavo Salmerón in a fine performance, although the rest are also very good.
However, the film belongs to the mothers. They are in fact the "queens" the title refers to. Pereira has been lucky enough to assemble a bunch of our greatest actresses: Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes, Mercedes Sampietro and Verónica Forqué. Betiana Blum, an unknown Argentinean actress, is, however, the standout with her over-the-top character, Ofelia.
The story is very nice plot-wise and treats gay love stories in the same way it treats straight love stories. The screenplay manages a few laughs from the audience, and it is so action-packed that you never loose your attention from the film. The only flaw I can find is that it ends so abruptly that some of the story lines are left unexplained and some character arcs end up being implausible.
In any case, I found the film highly satisfying and very entertaining, so if you like spending two hours with a good comedy you won't feel disappointed.
Overall rating: 8/10
Entertaining soccer comedy
After two breakthrough performances in "Días de fútbol" and TV's "Aquí no hay quien viva", Fernando Tejero lands his first leading role in yet another soccer comedy. He gracefully passes the test and proves that he can successfully carry a movie, but maybe he should start looking for different kinds of characters if he doesn't want to be typecast.
In "El penalti más largo del mundo" he plays Fernando, a complete loser who suddenly has to stand in for the goalkeeper in the decisive match that can grant his team the victory in the local league. The final penalty is postponed for a week, during which the spectators witness the events happening to the substitute goalkeeper.
Those looking for a few laughs will not feel disappointed by this light comedy, which also boasts excellent performances by María Botto, Carlos Kaniowsky, or Enrique Villén. Benito Sagredo is a discovery here as the titular goalie, while Marta Larralde shows that she is no longer a promising actress but a fully skilled performer. However, I had the impression that the writers had lost a great opportunity to get deeper into the social aspects surrounding the character. After all, the film deals with unemployment, racism, and life in a working-class without getting any deeper into the topics. Thus, the film would have offered another layer to the film's topic, making it a lot more interesting.
In any case, this is a perfectly decent movie for those who want to have a good time watching a genuinely Spanish comedy that offers sheer entertainment and nothing else.
El juego de la verdad (2004)
Four actors in a state of grace, a simple yet clever screenplay and an engaging story make of "El juego de la verdad" an extremely watchable movie. With only six characters and their relationships to play with, Álvaro Fernández Armero achieves his best film so far in the shape of an intelligent and entertaining comedy.
Tristán Ulloa is charming as the leading character, Natalia Verbeke has never been so sexy, and Oscar Jaenada plays winningly against type. But the heart and soul of the film is María Esteve, whose personal acting skills make all her performances appealing and unaffected. In this case she is the highlight of the movie as Lea, the protagonist's troubled girlfriend.
I don't think anybody will feel disappointed with "El juego de la verdad". If you're looking for a fairly entertaining movie and four great performances by four great actors, this is your film.
Overall rating: 7/10
Escuela de seducción (2004)
Easy to watch, easy to forget
Victoria Abril is probably one of the best actresses in Spanish cinema, and has provided plenty of unforgettable performances in the past ("Amantes", "Nadie hablará de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto" or "Átame", to name just a few), but lately she seems unable to find worthy projects.
"Escuela de seducción" is an acceptable comedy which deals, for the umpteenth time, with the war of the sexes using misunderstandings and fake personalities as dramatic resources. The premise is by no means original, but this is something most films lack nowadays, and therefore the result could have been more than acceptable.
However, the film, instead of focusing on delivering an entertaining screwball comedy, seems to focus more on making the most unapologetic publicity ever seen in recent cinema (a brand of yogurt is not only the name of a character but also a key gag)and on inserting pointless video-clips (two Alejandro Sanz songs for no reason). Thus, the aim of the story falls somewhere along the tracks leaving the viewers unsatisfied.
In any case, I would like to remark that there is an extremely moving subplot in which an excellent Petra Martínez (also seen in Almodóvar's "La mala educación") shows once more that she can shine even with the smallest of characters. Her great skill certainly helps to raise the level of this comedy.
"Escuela de seducción" is a lot like the yogurt it advertises: it's smooth, nice and easy to swallow. It's a shame this film is also very easy to forget.
Las cerezas del cementerio (2005)
Good adaptation with a blatant case of miscasting
Lately Spanish public television has been making a series of TV-movies and mini-series which adapt Blasco Ibáñez's most popular books into the small screen. Now, as it seems, they've started adapting other well known writers from the same region, in this case Gabriel Miró. Whereas "Arroz y tartana" and some others have turned out to be quite good, others have ended up being quite a disappointment.
Plot-wise, "Las cerezas del cementerio" is one of the most interesting books by Gabriel Miró, so the TV adaptation was, in principle, quite promising. First cast rumors said that Cecilia Roth was to play the role of Beatriz, the beautiful and captivating woman who romances the young Félix Valdivia. For any unexplained reason, Concha Velasco landed the role and completely ruined the movie for me.
To be fair, Concha Velasco is a legend in Spanish TV, cinema and theater and has been very good in a great variety of roles. But we should not forget that Beatriz is supposed to be a woman in her forties whose beauty can drive a young man crazy. Roth, at 48, would have been perfect for the role, while Velasco, at 65, is a blatant case of miscasting. Her love scenes with Félix Gómez were, to say the least, disturbing, and instead of his lover she looked more like his granny.
Miscasting aside, Velasco delivers an acceptable performance and seems to perfectly understand the character. Félix Gómez plays the young Félix Valdivia with enthusiasm, while supporting players like Elisa Matilla, Empar Ferrer or Álvaro de Luna constitute the best part of the film. As usual in this kind of adaptations, the technical aspects are brilliant.
This could have been really good, but it has turned to be a vanity project for Velasco. However, I still give it a 6/10.
Canceled after only five episodes
Manuel Lobo (Sancho Gracia) is a veteran lawyer who is also the father of a judge (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo), a forensic surgeon (Mar Regueras) and a somewhat lost young woman (Myriam Gallego). Tribunals and the Lobo family house were equally important plot-wise, so that it was more than a mere courtroom drama. Thus, we witnessed the events happening to this unlikely family as well as their professional activities.
All leading actors were great, and so were most of the members of the supporting cast (Sergio Peris Mencheta, Miguel Ángel Solá and Alberto Jiménez were specially remarkable). It was cleverly written, beautifully shot and extremely well directed. However, this show did not manage to find its own audience as soon as other shows do, and Antena 3 canceled it after only five episodes.
This is something common in Spanish TV lately, that TV channels are not patient enough so that to leave TV shows build their audiences slowly. Not all successful TV series were huge hits at the beginning, but they had to wait a little in order to let word of mouth spread. This was not the case with Lobos, and all its followers were left clueless about how the series might have ended.
7:35 de la mañana (2003)
What a discovery!
With a minimal budget, a running time of eight minutes and a great amount of imagination, Nacho Vigalondo has achieved one of the most moving shorts I've ever seen. The subtlety of the screenplay is really remarkable, since it doesn't give the ending away until the very last moment.
Don't let anybody tell you what the short is about, since you'll be able to enjoy it a lot more. Nacho Vigalondo is the discovery of the year for his one-man show: directing, writing and acting in this formidable short is the most remarkable effort I've seen in years. Also pay attention to the performance of Marta Belenguer, her reaction shots are incredible.
Overall rating: 8/10
La suerte dormida (2003)
Better than Erin Brockovich
"La suerte dormida" is the impressive directorial debut of Angeles González-Sinde, one of our greatest screenwriters. Based loosely on true events, it tells the quest of a lawyer who fights a big corporation to clear the accidental death of a miner. At times I was reminded of "Erin Brockovich", but this is certainly better and more realistic.
Adriana Ozores has the gift of making her acting look extremely easy, and her role here is no exception. That's why some people think she repeats herself constantly, but she has shown a great variety of performances in her career. In this case, she is excellent as ever as a grief-ridden widow who finds a new hope in her life by getting involved in this case and in a relationship with a younger man. The supporting cast boasts great performances by Félix Gómez, José Soriano and Carlos Kaniowski.
If you feel like watching a strong drama, this is highly recommended. However, expect no big twists like in most American courtroom dramas, this is of the realistic kind. Also watch it for the great performances by a solid cast.
Overall rating: 7/10
La fiesta (2003)
Some people are apparently amazed by the fact that this film cost little more than 6,000 euros, but I'd say it looks exactly like a film with such a budget. However, it's good to see how these filmmakers came from nowhere and managed a moderate success with their movie.
The plot is nothing special, it's obviously inspired in American teenage films like "American Pie", but the filmmakers prefer to quote Kevin Smith as their source of inspiration. The eventual result is quite fun indeed, but it's also easily forgotten. Some of the performers are shockingly bad, and so obviously amateur. Only Alexandra Jiménez managed to call my attention playing Trini, a wannabe actress who works in a supermarket.
As a whole, I'd say I prefer to watch this instead of the latest American no-brainer, but Spanish cinema has much more to offer than "La fiesta". However, and just for the sake of having a good time watching it, I give it a 6/10.