Friday 5 July 2019

At the Sydney Instituto Cervantes - Barrie Pattison tracks down KAMIKAZE (Álex Pina, Spain, 2014)

A rom-com in which the male lead is a terrorist with an explosives vest under his shirt is not something the English language cinemas are likely to come up with. That’s what you get with Álex Pina’s 2014 Spanish Kamikaze. It’s not a great film but it went down gangbusters with the original language audience I saw it with at the Instituto Cervantes and it’s a nice example of the kind of popular entertainment movie that doesn’t stand much chance of getting here if it misses the Hispanic events.

We see severe, bearded Álex García being briefed on his suicide mission - bringing down a passenger jet while filled with aviation kerosene over a highly populated Russian civilian area - as a way of drawing attention to the systematic deprivation of "Karadjistan” which has cost the lives of his family. Between two candidates for martyrdom, he gets to be the winner.

All goes smoothly with him through airport security but then he finds his flight grounded by bad weather and himself put up in the remote snow sports Lombards Hotel. At this point everything goes wrong. The ever reliable Carmen Machi turns an ordinary piece of writing into a conspicuous character thrusting her baby into Garcia’s hands. A lovable dog adopts him. García marches into the dining room to enunciate the wrongs done his country before he sets off the vest and the fellow passengers think he’s proposing a toast and join in raising their glasses, while the so fetching Verónica (Yo soy la Juani) Echegui (if they ever give an Oscar for nice teeth, she’s a shoe-in) cozies up to him because, of all the people who interrupted her suicide attempts, he’s the only one who ever told her what was wrong with the way she was slashing her wrists. 

I’m not sure this is the information that should be put out in a popular entertainment but it is an indication of the film’s tone. 

Kamikaze’s great skill is the way it manages switching from grim to farcical and back again. The cast are spot on reflecting the skill of the director on his first feature and his casting. An actor whose work I don’t know called Eduardo Blanco has the annoying shoe salesman roommate spot and makes the character rounded and engaging. Rising star Leticia Dolera does a karaoke song which gets her character attention and the great Hector Alterio sings, plays piano and delivers the film’s message  “Son, no matter how much you have suffered, there is always someone who suffers more than you ... And you only have two choices: Either rot inside or dance to the rhythm of life.” Alterio’s delivery and the fact that the film is tuned exactly to this greeting card sentiment win over an audience.

Viewers with a long memory may recognise here the structure of Argentinian heavyweight Hugo Fregonese’s best film, the 1954 U.S. made The Raid,particularly in the rescue of the lost child in the thirty degree below weather. What made that notable, works here too. Is there something Hispanic about the situation?

There are a few nice touches like the wicker chair covered in snow, the kids bouncing on the bed with the concealed bomb or the kite flying sequence. The film isn’t too much concerned about plausibility and its air plane model work is a bit cheesy, but what the heck. It’s genuinely crowd pleasing.

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