Sunday 17 December 2017

At the Instituto Cervantes - Barrie Pattison uncovers an unseen Spanish comedy HAPPY 140 (Gracia Querejeta, 2015)

Time was that seeing a notable film outside Circuit releases was an aberration. Now fringe showings have just about edged the multiplexes off the charts. 

Last week the Instituto Cervantes slapped Gracia Querejeta’s 2015 Felices 140/Happy 140  into their digital projector (nice unit which just about did justice to the superior production values) and ran it on a big screen for their small near capacity audience.

This one locates itself in the Les petits mouchoirs, Little White Lies and Perfetti sconosciuti/Perfect Strangers line, with the admirable Maribel Verdu (notable in Y Tu Mamá También & El Portero among others) celebrating her fortieth birthday by inviting all her intimates to the dazzling coastal villa to which the departing house keeper gives her the keys.

Maribel’s nephew young Marcos Ruiz is suitably impressed as are his parents, Verdu’s sister Miriam Alvarez and her abusive lawyer husband  Antonio de la Torre (also a key player after Marshlands & Ballad for a Sad Trumpet), failing restaurateur Eduard Fernández (Hormigas en la boca) and his pregnant wife Nora Navas (Pa negre),  rich Alex O'Dogherty arriving  by helicopter and old flame Ginés García Millán with his new girlfriend, sexy starlet Paula Cancio who’s waiting on a part in a movie with Ricardo Darin where she might even have scenes with him. Impressive line-up.

There’s a bit of “Whose place is this?” and they do the Cabaret “Money, Money, Money” number together. Tension from health nut Cancio picky about the lavish breakfast spread, with Verdu listing it out finishing “and you want alfalfa!” Turns out Fernández’ business is collapsing, Alvarez resents the contribution she’s had to make to looking after and keeping their mother in a home and they all start calculating when it’s revealed that Maribel has won the 140 Million Euro lottery. Much agonizing about hitting her up for money. So far unsurprisingly slick.

However Maribel and Millan re-kindle with a big wet kiss, after some dialogue about the abortion she had because he wanted to be free. While they are selecting from the bottles of four thousand Euro Burgundy in the cellar, things take an unprecedented turn and everyone is forced to make decisions which reveal just what kind of people they are.

This produces a number of startling moments - de la Torre spelling out their plan as blackmail or them listing the people who might notice Millán’s absence, with stunned Cancio looking at the company when they mention “His friends.” There’s tension that one of them might break ranks and go to the cops. It seems impossible that this plan is going to fly but the cynicism of the ending is startling.

Only young Ruiz, who demands to be allowed to spend his time with aunt Maribel till he’s eighteen and rueful Fernández (with one of the top dollar bottles in his baggage) feel her anguish, fear of going back into confinement like the one after her nervous breakdown which they use against her. The ending has the smiling participants photographed for the news and comes with advice that Álvarez’ marriage has improved and Cancio has bought into her movie, telling Ricardo Darin he can be replaced.

You leave this one disturbed not only by what it has to say about human nature but also by finding that something as substantial as this could totally bypass the mechanism that brings movies to us. I always wondered why the films that I saw in European multiplexes were better than the ones that show up in festivals here and this is a sharp reminder of that process.

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