This Isn’t Almodóvar’s Spain

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The New York Sun

When discussing Spanish cinema, it’s hard not to think first of those soap-influenced melodramas. Filmmakers such as Pedro Almodóvar and Álex de la Iglesia have earned international reputations by radicalizing this genre with saucy humor, fluid sexuality, and vibrant colors. Similarly established but less revered or theorized are Alejandro Amenábar and Ventura Pons, who have taken a straighter approach (no pun intended) to the same elements. With “DarkBlueAlmostBlack,” the writer-director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo firmly places himself in the latter group, and perhaps goes even beyond that. His debut feature is so socially regressive that it may prompt many viewers to reconsider their presumptions about Spain and its national cinema.

Jorge (Quim Gutiérrez) begrudgingly takes over a janitor-doorman-super job from his father Andrés (Héctor Colome), who has suffered a debilitating stroke, else they lose their apartment. His upwardly mobile childhood sweetheart Natalia (Eva Pallarés) wants to rekindle that old flame. On the other hand, his downwardly mobile and impotent brother Antonio (Antonio de la Torre) has asked Jorge to impregnate a girlfriend he met in prison so she can move to the maternity ward and away from the bullies. Meanwhile, Jorge’s ambiguously gay friend Israel (Raúl Arévalo) has discovered that his own father Fernando (Manuel Morón) frequents a male erotic masseur and begins blackmailing him.

Those who have Almodóvarian preconceptions about Spain are in for a surprise. “DarkBlueAlmostBlack” presents the country as a place where traditions and familial obligations outweigh personal ambitions, an ethic the film reaffirms with each subplot. It’s not merely about upholding religious conservatism in a country deeply rooted in Catholicism, either; the moral of the story here is that a person can’t find his or her happiness while continuing to struggle against the status quo, rather than simply accepting his or her place in the caste system.

While resilient females and flamboyant transvestites populate Mr. Almodóvar’s Spain, Mr. Sanchez Arévalo’s nation is full of closeted gay men and unprincipled women. After Israel outs dad in front of mom (Ana Wagener), she admits that she’s known about it all along but stayed mum to keep up appearances. She even threatens to kick Israel out should he tell anyone.

“DarkBlueAlmostBlack” resolves in a way that advocates adherence to family values and trivializes personal fulfillment. Whether or not you subscribe to its agenda, if you spend the duration of the movie hoping Jorge will finally catch a break, you may well find the film’s so-called happy ending truly unsatisfying.

The New York Sun

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