Cesc Gay hits his comfort zone and parks there for this half-throttle film of five stories

Stories Not To Be Told

Source: San Sebastián International Film Festival

‘Stories Not To Be Told’

Dir/scr: Cesc Gay. Spain. 2022. 99 mins.

The title of Cesc Gay’s eighth feature suggests that there may be something daring or subversive about it, but that’s far from the truth: with the urban, thoroughly civilised Stories Not To Be Told, Gay seems to have locked the door to his comfort zone and thrown away the key. Slickly, amusingly and sometimes thought-provokingly, the film delivers five witty relationship stories about bourgeois Barcelonans and then is gone forever, leaving behind it only the faint tang of Gay’s own wit and reinforcing the director’s reputation as the Spanish Woody Allen. 

Only the dialogues, which these stories depend on more than anything else, are not always as sharp as they think they are

That said, Gay at half throttle is never less than enjoyable, and the fact that the cast is like a who’s who of Spanish cinema over the last twenty years should mean good Spanish-language business. There’s little within the film itself to suggest that this will replicate the success of 2015’s Truman, but as a potential international showcase for Spanish acting talent, it could scarcely be bettered.

A previous Gay multi-parter, 2012’s A Gun in Each Hand, investigated the fragility of the male ego under attack in a world of changing gender assumptions. It thus felt more to the point than Stories, which seems, as the title suggests, to be on the more general one of how afraid we are of telling, or hearing, the truth.

The first tale, the funniest, is basically a farce in which Laura (Ana Castillo) locks Alex (Chino Darin, who has a bull mastiff like the one owned by the character played by his father Ricardo in Truman) in the bathroom when her husband Raul (Javier Rey) comes home. What’s clever here is that when hubby arrives, Laura doesn’t actually need to push him into the bathroom, because nothing is happening between her and Alex—it’s all in her head. 

The second has alpha male Carlos (Antonio de la Torre), spouting football metaphors, and Ana (Maria Leon) urging Luis (Alex Brendemuhl) to have a one-night stand, and features a delightfully ambiguous conclusion. This is followed by a movie audition, with insecure Angela (Nora Navas), Carol (Alexandra Jimenez) and snooty Blanca (Maribel Verdu), bitching about one another before finally demonstrating a twisted kind of solidarity. In the next section, the farcical tone returns as writer Andres (Jose Coronado) is forced into being creative as he pathetically tries to save his new relationship with much younger Barbara (Alejandra Onieva).

The final story, featuring a superb Quim Gutierrez and Veronica Echegui as a young couple testing the limits of honesty in their relationship, is the strongest, feeling rangier and seeming to go to the heart of an issue—specifically whether we should tell our partners about our affairs—in the way the others don’t.

The stories unfold in a sealed, sumptuously lit world of microtheatres, David Bowie exhibitions and good restaurants, representing a kind of middle-class fantasy that’s increasingly under threat. Though they do touch lightly on a range of contemporary talking points—among them transgender issues, the insecurities of middle age, both male and female, in a younger person’s world, and whether or not to have children—little new is said about any of them.

Any contemporary themes that might have threatened to invade, and viewers will be aware there are quite a few of them knocking about, have been silently sidelined: these stories are finally upbeat, telling us what we want to hear rather than reminding us of what we have to deal with. Nothing wrong with that, of course: and anyway, it’s all superbly played, directed and edited. Only the dialogues, which these stories depend on more than anything else, are not always as sharp as they think they are.

What’s interesting is how tried and tested the underlying tropes of the film are—the cuckolded husband, the pathetic older lover, the comedy of confused sexuality. On a little reflection, Stories Not To Be Told starts to look less like Woody Allen than ‘Geoffrey Chaucer: The Barcelona Tales’. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Production companies: Imposible Films

International sales: Filmax, filmaxint@filmax.com

Producers: Marta Esteban

Screenplay: Cesc Gay

Cinematography: Andreu Rebes

Production design: Anna Pujol Tauler

Editing: Liana Artigal

Music: Arnau Batalle

Main cast: Chino Darin, Anna Castillo, Javier Rey, Alex Brendemuhl, Antonio De La Torre, María Leon, Eva Reyes, Jose Coronado, Alejandra Onieva, Alexandra Jimenez, Maribel Verdu, Nora Navas, Quim Gutierrez, Brays Efe, Veronica Echegui, Javier Camara