Dir: Eduard Cortes. Spain. 2002. 103 mins.

The only Spanish film in competition at last week's Valladolid International Film Week, Nobody's Life (La Vida De Nadie) marks the impressive feature film debut of Catalan TV director Eduard Cortes. A suspenseful adult drama anchored by strong performances from lead actors Jose Coronado and Adriana Ozores, who walked away with the award for best actress at the festival. Sogepaq's international sales could be complicated by two other recent films based on the same source material. But Nobody's Life compensates for its deja-vu, ostensibly grim material with a surprisingly upbeat tone and a smart, sculpted script which keeps audiences peeled - once they're in the door. The challenge for local distributor Warner Sogefilms will be to find a marketing hook sexy enough to pull in the crowds. Domestic release has been pushed back to early 2003 to avoid the Christmas rush. Internationally, a continued presence on the festival circuit would help get word out.

The story is adapted from the real-life case of Jean-Claude Romand, a Frenchman who murdered his entire family before they could discover that he had been lying to them for years about his unemployment. Offering varying takes on the same tale, Nicole Garcia made The Adversary (L'Adversaire) last year and Laurent Cantet shot Time Out (L'Emploi Du Temps) in 2001. Both were well-received by critics.

In the Spanish version, Emilio Barrero (Coronado) is a doting father to young son Sergio (Portugal) and loving husband to wife Agata (Ozores). He is also a successful economist with the Banco de Espana, a trusted investment adviser to friends and family and the proud owner of a spacious two-story home in the suburbs of Madrid. Yet all of these achievements are fabrications except, significantly, his deeply felt love for Sergio, the only 'real thing' he feels he has accomplished. As Emilio enters into an affair with a much younger woman, Rosana (Etura), his web of deceit, grown steadily over twenty years, begins to unravel.

In a key departure from the events of the Romand case, and one which could make Nobody's Life more palatable for broader audiences, Cortes and co-scripter Piti Espanol have rewritten the ending. While no less tragic, their finale transforms Emilio into a sympathetic, ultimately martyred, character. His amiability is further buoyed by actor Coronado's charming, gentle portrayal of Emilio as more attractive con-man than malevolent schemer. His friends and family are doubtless victims of his duplicity, but he too gets trapped beneath the snowball of lies.

Cortes angles the tale as a universal one. Underscoring that, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine and production designer Ion Arretxe capture a cosmopolitan, mostly anonymous Madrid. One scene in which Emilio overhears another unemployed businessman, similarly wiling away the hours on a park bench and lying to his wife on his mobile phone, suggests there could be any number of men simultaneously playing Emilio's same game.

The park scene serves another purpose as well: it reminds Emilio he has accidentally left his own phone in a critical place. In fact, little in Cortes and Espanol's script feels gratuitous: scenes, dialogues and secondary characters serve specific purposes in the development and resolution of the story. All foreshadowing eventually pays off, helping build suspense. Cortes also makes effective use of visual cues: the audience know Emilio is thinking of Rosana, for instance, whenever he practices her one-hand pencil twirl. Such personal touches are not only more cinematographic, they also make the film an original piece of work even despite the two previous Romand-inspired films.

Prod cos: Pedro Costa PC, Enrique Cerezo PC
Spain dist:
Warner Sogefilms
Int'l sales:
Exec prods:
Pedro Costa, Enrique Cerezo
Eduard Cortes, Piti Espanol
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Prod des:
Ion Arretxe
Fernando Pardo
Xavi Capellas
Main cast:
Jose Coronado, Adriana Ozores, Marta Etura, Roberto Alvarez, Adrian Portugal