Directed by Pablo Berger. Starring Javier Cámara, Candela Peña, Juan Diego, Malena Alterio, Fernando Tejero, Mada Mikkelsen, Ramón Barea. (2003, NR, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 24, 2005
The pitfalls of pornography are less prurient than one would think in Berger’s slight feature debut. The story of a Spanish married couple – Alfredo Lopez (Cámara, of Almodóvar’s Talk to Her) and Carmen (Peña, of Almodóvar’s All About My Mother) – who embark on a new career in the porn field feels, unsurprisingly, like Almodóvar-lite. The juicy subject matter almost guarantees high comic titillation, but while Berger proves himself to have an eye for Seventies-era Spain, with all the washed-out, sun-bleached images that this borderline situation comedy calls for, the whole of it never quite jells into anything more substantial than a frothy, tarty confection as ephemeral and unsatisfying as, well, a porn film. Risqué Torremolinos 73 may well be, but it’s certainly nothing for the morals squad to get up in arms about. Berger’s depiction of home-brew brouhahas is more sweetly doe-eyed than floridly sensual, and both Cámara and Peña, who generate a wonderfully realistic spousal chemistry, are decidedly quaint in their lovemaking, whether it’s for the camera or for each other. The film’s central conceit, which has the down-at-the-heels door-to-door encyclopedia salesman Alfredo being unceremoniously ushered into the skin trade by his boss (who assures his hesitant employee that the resulting Super-8 loops will only be distributed in sex-mad Scandinavia) is played strictly for laughs, but it’s Carmen’s aching, ticking biological clock that provides the film’s most solid emotional underpinnings. There are plenty of softball softcore gags to go around – including an ongoing schtick that has the bemused couple repeatedly recognized in various public places by visiting Scandinavian tourists – and a lengthy subplot regarding Alfredo’s own mad love affair with the work of Ingmar Bergman that leaves him plotting to direct the adult Bergman pastiche of the title. It’s all about as sordid as a mussed bedspread. Berger’s film comes awfully close to achieving some sort of tearful truth in the film’s lukewarm but affecting denouement, as a woeful Carmen makes love to another man while her obviously jealous husband films their frolic, but even that feels leavened by the addition of a cutesy montage ending that reveals, to no one’s surprise, that all’s well in the Lopez household, after all. All this and not a glimmer of General Franco makes for a surreal – and sporadically inspired – comedy of Spanish mores back when naughty was nice.