A very fine addition to this year’s Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival, this – unsurprisingly – was Argentina’s second highest grossing film of 2019.
Both an extremely dark comedy and a slightly skewed moral tale, it would sit neatly alongside some of the best Ealing productions from their golden age. With a script both witty and acidic and finely rendered performances from all the central characters, Juan Jose Campanella’s film is a joy from start to finish.
This is a movie about movies and those who make them, and is made with obvious love, but this love is not blind to the ridiculously elevated status that those who star in them have conferred upon them, and that they confer upon themselves.
Mara Ordaz (Graciela Borges) an aging star from a bygone era lives in a country house outside Buenos Arias with her husband and onetime co-star Pedro (Luis Brandoni) who is confined to a wheelchair after a car crash. They share their home with Director of her most memorable successes Norberto (Oscar Martinez) and writer of those movies Martin (Marcos Mundstock). This quartet inhabit the dilapidated mansion, the hall of which is dominated by Mara’s Academy Award, filling their days by sniping at each other – largely to offset the mundanity of their day to day existence.
This could be a movie, suggests Norberto, were it not for the absence of any villains. Right on cue, enter a young couple (Clara Lago and Nicolas Francella) who are apparently lost and need the use of a phone to cancel a meeting they won’t now make. On finding who the occupants of the house are, they are effusive in their declarations of love for Mara, as well as admiration for the others.
It is an easy task to turn Mara’s head and convince her that she is still revered, and attempt to persuade her to leave her seclusion, sell the mansion and return to a glittering life in the city.
Needless to say, this does not go down well with Pedro, Norberto and Martin who stand to be left homeless. And are these visitors what they present themselves to be, or do they harbour motives of their own? Thus battle commences…
The characters on both sides are so well drawn – none exactly loveable, but likewise not the embodiment of evil either – that you find yourself on shifting ground as to any hoped for outcome. The tone of the film does become darker as it goes on, with a great deal of grim humour. I will give away no spoilers as to the outcome here, suffice to say that Mara’s statuesque late sister holds the key to it all.