Dir. Cesc Gay. Spain, 2003. 110mins.
Pleasant, handsome, urbane but quite vacuous, Cesc Gay's second feature film resembles, to a certain extent, the choral dramas of French director Claude Sautet, minus the dynamics and the depth. Revising the thirtysomething formula of American television into an European version shot entirely in Barcelona, it follows six characters and their companions through romantic entanglements and disentanglements. As such it is decent and courteous at all times but never really compels, ending up as an ideal item for every type of television platform while too soft to draw patrons out of their homes and into theatres outside its own home grounds. It premiered in the Contemporary World Cinema sidebar at Toronto and has had a fair performance at the Spanish box office this autumn.
In what has become by now an established genre in its own right, Gay's multi-layered script ties together a number of separate stories, though in reality, their links don't contribute much to the final result. A music teacher, Thomas (Alex Brendemuhl) sleeps with his 16-year-old student; Anna (Miranda Makaroff), an air controller's wife Irene (Monica Lopez) who works in an art centre, has problems with her sexual identity that her husband Manu (Chisco Amado) is blissfully unaware of; Sofia (Maria Pujalte) a clerk in a book shop, resorts to fantasies to complement the often disappointing state of her amorous life; the far-too-loose marriage of Mario (Eduard Fernandez) an architect and Sara (Vicenta Ndongo) a costume designer, is headed for a difficult patch; and Eva (Carme Pla) a lively nurse with an appetite for male company, tries to raise the necessary funds to open a massage parlour.
They are all friends, some of the even related, who meet once in a while, usually men and women separately, they discuss their personal problems, they share holiday plans, thy give each other advice, even reveal some of their intimate experiences, but they never open up entirely, a veil of secrecy being maintained at all times over things they really care about. Each one is undergoing a crisis of his own but none of them is prepared to involve the others, beyond a certain point, for even for such close friends, appearances have to be kept at all times and all costs.
Never less than professionally directed, with a cast that seems to be both familiar and comfortable with the characters they play and fluid camera work that makes judicious use of the wide screen, the problem with Gay's film lies mainly in its script. It seems to take place everywhere and nowhere, showing people and events that are familiar from any environment but never takes the trouble to look beyond their romantic affectations, strike real roots for any of them or lend their features more than a superficial facade. None of these people, for instance, show any particular interest in their occupation, nor are they affected by the place they live in or by the culture surrounding them. Even the location itself, Barcelona, is not particularly meaningful.
By the end of the picture, as all the leading characters gather for a festive meal on a terrace overlooking the roofs of the city, it is difficult not to suspect that after all, nothing really serious has happened here, certainly nothing that a good meal with a few bottles of decent wine, cannot fix.
Prod co: Messidor Films
Int'l sales: Bavaria Film International
Sp dist: Alta
Prod: Marta Esteban, Gerardo Herrero
Scr: Cesc Gay, Tomqas Aragay
Cinematography: Andreu Rebes
Ed: Frank Gutierrez
Prod des: Daniel Gimelberg
Costumes: Gloria Viguer
Music: Joan Diaz, Jordi Prats
Sound: Alberto Manera, Fabiola Ordoyo, Ricard Casals
Main cast: Monica Lopez, Eduard Fernandez, Maria Pujalte, Alex Brendemuhl, Vicenta Ndongo, Chisco Amado, Leonor Watling, Carme Pla, Miranda Makaroff, Aurea Marquez, Jordi Sanchez, Eric Bonicatto