Dir: Agusti Vila. Spain. 1999. 83 mins.
Prod cos: Fernando Colomo, Alta Films, Canal Plus. Domestic dist: Alta Films. Int'l Sales: Sogepaq (00 34 91 524 72 20). Exec prod: Beatriz de la Gandara. Scr: Vila. DoP: David Onedes. Prod des: Sofia Pape. Ed: Miguel Angel Santamaria. Music: Ian Briton. Main cast: Victoria Freire, Alex Bredemuhl, Monica Lopez.
Vila's first feature owes a hefty debt to Eric Rohmer (which the director, to his credit, acknowledges with a dialogue reference in an early scene) and is none the worse for being influenced by its mentor. Lively and amusing, this witty low-budget comedy of romantic errors can expect festival interest and, with critical support, solid if small-scale business in niche cinemas and eventually television.
About to be left by his girlfriend who's going to study in London, Juan salvages his pride by insisting he's the one terminating the relationship. After dangling around at a loose end for a while and suffering through a series of unsuitable blind dates, he decides to shorten the odds on finding love by going every day to the same bench in the park at exactly the same time. But then, just to hedge his bet, he moves on daily to loiter at a table in a nearby bar.
Inevitably he finds himself having to choose between two potential mates, the slightly flaky Alice, whom he meets in the park, and the studious Ana, who shares his table at the bar. Unaware of each other, neither understands why he's always having to dash off to some vital meeting. And that, essentially, is the plot: the pretext for a suite of misunderstandings and droll ruminations on how to control one's life.
Shot with a handheld camera and direct sound, A Bench In The Park has a rambling, improvised feel which conceals an artful screenplay and some precisely staged visual jokes, while Vila has the sense to wrap things up briskly just as the joke begins to run out of steam. Likeable performances across the board succeed in sustaining audience interest in and sympathy for the often irritatingly self-absorbed and self-deluded characters.