THE BRIDE (2016, La Novia, Spain)

February 16, 2017

the-bride Greetings again from the darkness. The pitch for this movie might have come across as blending a Greek tragedy with a romance novel, and then adding a dash of revenge. Fortunately director Paula Ortiz’s vision for the Federico Garcia Lorca play “Bodas de sangre” is more poetic and lyrical than such an overview would suggest.

Love triangles are the core of many stories and movies, but it’s the opening sequence here that clues us in that the trouble has already occurred, and though it removes some of the suspense of “what”, it certainly sets the stage for an interesting “how” and “why”.

Inma Cuesta plays Novia (billed only as the titular bride) who is engaged to Asier Etxeandia (billed only as Novio, the groom). The abundance of family stress (on both sides) has little to do with the wedding plans, and more to do with Leonardo (Alex Garcia). Leonardo is more than the local hunk who is always lurking about on horseback; he’s also the third wheel who can’t let go of his desire for Novia … in spite of his young child and pregnant wife. To make things messier, Novia seems to answer his heightened desire for her with her own uncontrollable passion for him.

It’s Yin and Yang. Safe and Dangerous. The bride’s conflicted choice leads the groom’s mother (Goya winner Luisa Gavasa) to be a foreboding presence throughout, and keeps most of the village on edge. Additionally, there is an element of mysticism as Maria Alfonsa Rossa appears periodically as the figure of death – and we are never quite sure of the motivations behind her advice.

Goya winner Miguel Amoedo provides beautiful cinematography that balances between fantasy, harsh realities, and the romance of the moment. There are many intimate close-ups, as well as some stunning desert wide shots of Leonardo riding the horse. The score and soundtrack are terrific, including Soledad Velez with a haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s “Take this Waltz”.

The concept of destiny vs. choice hovers over most scenes, and the twisted family and childhood histories give the film a Shakespearian feel. Last year, the film received numerous Goya nominations (including Ms. Cuesta, Ms. Ortiz, Mr. Garcia) are resulted in the wins for Ms. Gavasa and Mr. Amoedo. It may not make the best Valentine’s Day date movie, but it is an interesting watch from the romance-tragedy-revenge-horseback genre.

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MA MA (Spain, 2016)

May 7, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

ma ma Greetings again from the darkness. It’s usually easy to bash the movies that go heavy on sentimentality. It’s possible that even Steve Goodman would agree that this latest from writer/director Julio Medem (Sex and Lucia, 2000) could be the outline for a perfect country song: Mama’s husband leaves her for a younger woman/student; Mama loses her teaching job; Mama gets breast cancer; Mama’s new friend experiences a life tragedy; Mama and her new friend fall in love; Mama gets more bad news; Mama gets some good and unexpected news; things don’t end well for Mama. Mix in a train, a truck and prison, and there would be no argument.

Penelope Cruz produces and stars as Magda, the titular Ma Ma whose singing gynecologist breaks the news that her breast cancer will require chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy. What follows could be called a whirlwind of tragedies involving Magda, her son Dani (Teo Plannel) and the soccer scout Arturo (Luis Tosar) and the aforementioned doctor (Asier Etxeandia).

The fine performance of Penelope Cruz keeps the film moving through the first two acts, and she is just so darn likable that we find ourselves really pulling for her. The strength and spirit of this woman has a positive influence on all who come in contact with her. She has an odd impact on the doctor who is clearly attracted to her, and they share a most awkward and unnecessary running dialogue about a young Siberian girl that he and his wife are considering adopting.

The third act quite simply pushes the film over-the-top, as it goes beyond sentimentality and into pure Lifetime channel mush. The film is probably a bit too slick and stylized, given the real struggles of battling cancer; however, the point of female strength is not lost … though the “save the nipple” and “the soul doesn’t die” discussions deliver a few eye rolls.

watch the trailer: