Dir: Manuel Huerga. Sp-UK. 2006. 138mins.
Based on the true story of a dashing Spanish anarchistand his execution as General Franco's last political prisoner, Manuel Huerga's Salvadoris never an overtly bad film but does pantingly flirtwith disaster during its overlong running time.
While well-mounted, withexcellent production values and convincing action, theatrical prospects forthis very particular piece of Spanish history may be dim beyond home, although itshould do well on DVD and TV around the world. Salvador played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
The film breaks down intotwo parts, each with its own virtues and vices. The first intends to show theformation of anarchist revolutionary Salvador Puig Antich (Bruehl) but as excitinglyas possible. It is packed with so many gun battles and chases that it oftenseems on the verge of becoming a Schwarzenegger thriller. The cutting is soinordinately fast, and the action so brutally accompanied by a pounding 1970srock score, that the film begins to resemble nothing so much as an extended MTVmusic video.
Ample time is also given to Puig's various love affairs, with a least one extended sexscene. At moments it seems like these sequences are meant to give the flavourof the era - Puig was executed in 1974 - at othersmerely to draw a younger, more populist crowd.
When not engaging ingunfights or making love, the handsome Puig is shownto great and sexy advantage riding a motorcycle through some very flatteringexpressionistic lighting. Like The MotorcycleDiaries, which on some level Huerga seems to attemptto imitate, the film wants to promote its revolutionary hero as a sensitive,life-devouring romantic.
It is not surprising that, withthe exception of a credit at the beginning to the effect that "Franco killedlots of students in the last years of his government', Salvador has virtually no political analysis. This is a shamebecause Puig and his family speak Catalan rather thanSpanish throughout, yet aside from his Spanish guards refusing to let their prisonercommunicate in Catalan, there is no follow-up on this important historicalaspect (although it would probably be lost on non-natives).
The second half of the filmis devoted to Puig's incarceration, his lawyer's (Ulloa) passionate devotion to his cause and his horribleexecution by garrotte, which gives the impression of something fetched from amedieval torture chamber. Here the problem is that Salvador quickly becomes a plodding saga in the death row genericvein, of hopes raised and dashed, rather than dramatising the specific agoniesthat the real-life Puig must have endured.
Even worse, this part of thefilm is scandalously dragged out in a misguided attempt to wring every ounce ofemotion from the audience. Further alienation will be the more likely resultfor non-Spanish audiences.
The best thing about Salvador is the presence of Daniel Bruehl in the title role. A real-life fluent speaker ofCatalan, his nuanced performance - at least insofar as he is able to manifestone in this hyper-charged vehicle - is excellent from beginning to end.