Dir: Juan Jose Campanella. 2001. Arg-Sp. 123mins.
Argentinian director Juan Jose Campanella's The Son Of The Bride (El Hijo De La Novia) is a tender, beautifully acted dramatic comedy that centres on a middle-aged man in crisis. Language may be a hindrance to the film's international aspirations, but the universality of the subject matter should translate fluidly across borders. The film has already done blockbuster business at home in Argentina - where it is the highest grossing film of all time and the country's candidate for the best foreign film Oscar. Meanwhile in Spain it has taken $1.6m from 57 screens after seven weeks. This week The Son Of The Bride was also picked up by Sony Picture Classics for North America.
The son of the title is Rafael Belvedere (Darin), a 42-year-old restaurant owner and divorced father who suffers a premature heart attack. Waking up in the hospital, Rafael reveals to his girlfriend Naty (Verbeke) that what he really wants to do is to run away from everything and everyone. Naty, obviously longing for a commitment from him or at least inclusion in his future plans, is deeply hurt.
A secondary storyline concerns the bride of the title, Rafael's mother, an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimers Disease, stoically brought to life by legendary actress Aleandro through a series of wide-eyed and childlike facial gestures. Rafael's father, the boyish Nino (the equally renowned Hector Alterio), dreams of remarrying his disabled but beloved wife, this time in a church ceremony. Rafael is originally opposed to the idea but finally comes around, a change indicative of his gradual emotional metamorphosis.
Campanella and Castets tell a smooth story while avoiding the sappy sentimentality that might taint a mainstream US treatment of similar material. Only the film's opening scenes, black-and-white flashbacks to the main character's childhood, threaten to trip into such excess.
Talented leading man Darin holds his own alongside Alterio and Aleandro and, in the film's real discovery, so does Spain's Natalia Verbeke. The little-known actress injects dignity and pathos into what could have been a conventional or even whiney role as the long-suffering girlfriend. Other brilliant supporting characters are Juan Carlos (Blanco), a childhood friend of Rafael's who has undergone his own crises and seeks out the companionship of his old friend, and Rafael's world-weary ex-wife (Fontan).
The film's title is slightly misleading, as Bride is really more about Rafael's own journey than his parents' remarriage. This name - as well as the poster image of Darin, Alterio and Aleandro, with Aleandro in the middle - may well represent a nod to the film's two acting giants. But in many ways Bride plays like an Argentine version of Woody Allen's Manhattan, centring on a middle-aged man's search for self, complete with a love affair with a younger woman, lopsided relations with an ex-wife, shared custody of a child and a troubled best friend.
Prod cos: Patagonik Film Group, Tornasol Films, Pol-Ka Producciones, JEMPSA
Sp dist: Alta Films
Int'l sales: Menemsha Entertainment
Exec prod: Juan Pablo Galli
Prods: Adrian Suar, Fernando Blanco, Pablo Bossi, Jorge Estruda Mora, Gerardo Herrero, Marilea Besuievdsky
Scr: Campanella, Fernando Castets
Cinematography: Daniel Shulman
Prod des: Juan Vera
Ed: Camilo Antolini
Music: Angel Illaramendi
Main cast: Ricardo Darin, Hector Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Eduardo Blanco, Natalia Verbeke, Gimena Nobile, Claudia Fontan