Dir: Marc Recha. Spain/ France. 2000. 110 mins.
Marc Recha's third feature starts from the principle of focussing on tiny moods and moments rather than grand dramatic set-pieces and allowing a story to evolve spontaneously instead of marshalling events in a structured sequence. While potentially fruitful, the result in this case is dull in the extreme and, for all the film's integrity and ambitions, the number of walk-outs at the screening caught in Cannes suggests that it taxes the patience of all but the most dedicated viewers. Commercial prospects outside the domestic and French markets and the odd Spanish film season look slim.
Paul (David Selvas), a young cook in a restaurant in a commuter suburb just outside Barcelona, gets a brusque phone call from the morgue asking him to identify a body; it is his brother, Alex, who has committed suicide. Once fishermen together, the brothers have both abandoned that job and become estranged. Travelling with his mother, Merce (Alicia Orozco), to the remote village in the Catalan Pyrenees where Alex had been working on a construction site, Paul hopes to find out more and come to terms with their loss.
A parallel story-line presents another fractured family. Alex's friend and boss, Emili (Luis Hostalot)), a former lumberjack who has left his wife in France, gets a visit from Marta, his estranged daughter (Nathalie Boutefeu), a fun-loving, rather flaky type who has recently discovered she is pregnant (she tells neither the child's father nor her own), but retains a liking for wine and dope, though she intends to keep the baby.
Also in the picture is Alex's girlfriend (Marieta Orozco), who had herself hoped to start a family with him and is still unaware of his death.
Camping out in a field, Paul and Merce visit Alex's dilapidated house, which they scour for crumbs of information about his life there, and in the fullness of time meet and get to know Emili and Marta. The frontier setting creates a sense of lives suspended in limbo between France and Spain, mountain and city, and all the characters seem emotionally adrift as well, although they slowly develop tentative relationships, with Merce making a pass at Emili one evening, while Paul launches into an affair with Marta. Apart from the language barrier (Marta speaks only French, Merce only Catalan), they all seem to have difficulties in connecting emotionally.
Two unresolved questions hang heavy in the air: Paul and Merce's public and personal denial of Alex's suicide (they claim that he died in a car accident), and their hesitation about how to disperse his ashes - an issue eventually resolved in a way which is both absurd and cathartic.
The film employs a quasi-Dogme 95 approach, using a hand-held camera and natural light, and shooting scenes in chronological sequence on found locations without the intervention of production or costume design. It allows an unusual degree of intimacy and foregrounds the detail of performance, but is only really effective if combined with clearly defined and interesting situations, neither of which are in evidence here.
Slow and miserly in dishing out fragments of narrative information, the long opening section is an especially hard slog, as characters about whom one knows little get up to nothing much. While the film picks up steam after the various groups of people have finally got together, too much at the end is left vague about just who they are and what's at stake between them.
One never learns much of interest, for example, about Alex's relationship with his family and girlfriend, his interest in Native American artefacts and, specifically, the possible reason for his suicide. There's just as little to suggest the major life changes and developments which the others are meant to go through as the result of their encounters. The subject of the film may be, as the director says, "the network of non-communication represented by all the characters", but that shouldn't mean that it fails itself to speak to its audience.
Prod co Oberon.
Spanish dist Lauren.
Int'l sales Films Distribution.
Prod Antonio Chavarrias.
Cinematography Helene Louvart
Ed Ernest Blasi.
Music Geronacion, Xavier Turull, Fred Vilmar, Toni Xucia, El Gitano.
Main cast David Selvas, Nathalie Boutefeu, Marieta Orozco, Luis Hostalot, Alicia Orozco.