Torremolinos 73 (2003, Pablo Berger)
If you’ve been waiting for the heir apparent to Pedro Almódovar to appear, you can relax. Pablo Berger’s Torremolinos 73 is a sexy, fun, goodhearted little movie like Almódovar’s earliest, though without the drag queens and S&M.
This little film is a spoof on the straight and porn film industries and a personal comedy with dramatic edges. It is set in the ’70s and feels as though it could’ve been shot then, too. Starring Javier Cámara (Alfredo) and Candela Peña (Carmen) both also familiar from Almódovar’s films (Cámara appeared in Talk To Her and Bad Education, and Peña in All About My Mother), it’s the story of a Spanish encyclopedia salesman offered a better gig: as a director of homemade soft porn flicks for the Scandinavian market, starring him and his wife. While he discovers latent talent for directing, his wife discovers her latent talent for “acting.” Meanwhile, her desire for a child threatens their marriage even more than being stopped in public with nude stills to sign. When Alfredo is offered the chance to direct his Ingmar Bergman-homage “straight” film, hilarity–and drama–ensue.
Being a film geek would certainly help one enjoy this picture, not only because the Bergman jokes and parodies will make more sense, but because the entire movie on one level is poking fun at filmmaking. Porn-film cinematographers claim to have worked for Bergman, and ladies in salons discuss with relish the “obscenity” of the classic art film Last Tango in Paris. Porn is treated as something that liberates this repressed post-Franco couple as well as sets them up financially, and Alfredo’s desire to make a serious film is not so much that he’s disgusted with porn as that he’s longing to become an artist, which, of course, makes him ripe for satire. Even Carmen’s first autograph-seeker follows her around with a Super 8 camera of his own, adding yet another level to the humor.
Shot in overexposed, grey-toned ’70s-style film stock against a variety of badly decorated rooms, the film feels like something caught on home video, but the script, with sly postmodern twists, obviously took hard work and thought. After all, a housewife with baby envy and a husband with issues about it aren’t exactly rare plot devices, but ’70s housewife/porn star? Admittedly, the Scandinavian market jokes won’t make much sense to American viewers ignorant of sociopolitical climates in Spain and Sweden thirty years ago, but one can still laugh at Carmen being chased through a department store by a Scandinavian tourist asking for her autograph in bad Spanish.
Sexually liberated, witty, and still humanist, this comedy is a very good first film for this writer-director, with great starring actors and a good supporting cast as well, and a mostly good-natured sense of humor. Like Ed Wood directing soft porn, Alfredo wins your sympathy but is still easy to laugh at, and the sometimes soap-opera plot has film-nerd humor and wit to keep it from becoming too saccharine or melodramatic.