Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Out 24 June/Terremolinos 73

Action: Cámara shoots to fame in Terremolinos 73

The influence of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar on other productions made in his native country is not ready to abate yet, as the new film Torremolinos 73 seem to indicate. The star of the film, Javier Cámara, is also an Almodóvar collaborator (Talk to Her, Bad Education), which makes the link even stronger. But Torremolinos 73, like another recent Spanish comedy, Only Human, is much less demanding stuff than Almodóvar’s films.

Director Pablo Berger takes the audience back to 1970s Spain, when it was under the repressive grip of the Franco dictatorship. Cámara plays a down-on-his-luck encyclopaedia salesman whose peachy wife Carmen (Candela Pena, previously seen in Take My Eyes) badly wants to get pregnant.

Luckily, the honcho of Montoya Publishers, Alfredo's employers, suggests Alfredo and Carmen make Super-8 erotic films for the Scandinavian market, an idea that was rejected by older encyclopaedia sales force, but which Alfredo and Carmen welcome (another colleague, who turns out to have a thing for horses, also embarks on the project).

Since he knows nothing about films, Alfredo gets trained by a Swedish man who says he used to work for Ingmar Bergman while Carmen is given lessons in seduction by a Swedish woman who looks like a cross between Farrah Fawcett and the Abba girls.

As chance would have it, Alfredo and Carmen's naive style strikes a chord with Scandinavian audiences and they become household names in the kinky north, to the point when they get followed around by a fan during a trip to a department store. Berger never worries too much about showing how the success happened, focusing instead on the relationship between wife and husband and their fertility problem. It leaves something of a gap in a film that is narrative-driven, but the art direction and the generous succession of gags served up by Berger make up for any temporal discrepancies.

Terremolinos 73 is a retro-fest of hairdos and 1970s prints, as if John Waters had gone on holiday in Spain with Almodóvar as his guide. Berger also uses the Bergman references as a resource of connoisseur jokes - he even brings in Dogme 95 actors Thomas Larsen and Bjarne Henriksen (of Festen fame) to appear in the feature film that Alfredo ends up writing and directing and which is used as the 'film-within-the-film' resolution.

Of course, like Waters, comedy is used a license for rudeness and exaggeration of stereotypes (the Danish film crew swims naked in the sea; one of them is gay etc). But it works, because Berger finds the right balance between irony and sincerity. Cámara proves once again that he's one of the best actors currently working in Spain and Pena is one to watch out for.

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