Boring in Barça
Two years ago, Cesc Gay made a bit of a critical, if not box-office, splash when his winning male coming-of-ager Nico and Dani (Krámpack outside the U.S.) appeared in the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual December showing of mostly new, occasionally classic, features and shorts from Spain. Now the Catalonian director returns, but, while technically more seasoned, In the City/En la ciudad is disappointing and hollow, another in the lengthening file of glossily colored exaggerations of a misrepresented anything-goes Barcelona.
Gay and Tomás Aragay's story is decidedly small. Treated skillfully -- say, in the manner of the recent El Bola or Mondays in the Sun/Los lunes al sol -- perhaps it would say more, but as is, it remains shallow and cold at the core, with the sole virtue of re-introducing two jazzy blues numbers by the late High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. This director's earlier, 2000 entry benefits from a hint of Mediterranean resort air and tastefully details a key summer moment in the sexual awakening of seventeen-year-olds Dani and Nico. His newest effort, occurring in cool bars and restaurants and bright apartments, is also set in motion by sex, but the physically attractive thirtyish characters silently wallow in half-desires and infidelities that one cannot care about in the least. Even their children, pregnancies, abortions and family planning are shamelessly bought in to make this or that point but come across more cardboard than Daisy's exploited daughter in otherwise masterful The Great Gatsby.
Married to a modest, loving air-traffic controller (Chisco Amado) who "makes lots of money" and performs most of the household chores, Irene (Mónica López) is cold and unhappily surly, repressing, we will see, natural lesbian tendencies. With masseuse sister Eva (Carmen Plà), Irene and Manu pal around with taciturn architect Mario (Eduard Fernández) and his wife Sara (Vicenta N'Dongo), who is carrying on with a member of her theatrical company and, as far as having children goes, is not on the same page as her spouse. He in turn is the uncle of rock-band Ana (Miranda Makaroff), who he says is fourteen but claims to be sixteen and, in any case, wants to borrow his BMW 6.50 for her affair with university teacher Tomás (Alex Brendemühl), who debates reunion with his estranged wife for the sake of son Teo.
More or less rounding out this Mary McCarthyish group is bookshop clerk Sofía (María Pujalte), quickly in love with twice-married "foreigner" Eric, who is based in Paris after Milan but soon to be transferred to Barcelona, meanwhile consoling herself with timid philosophy teacher Andrés (Jordi Sánchez).
Others are trundled in and out, too, although in the end only Andrés, Mario and to a lesser degree Manu stand on their own legs and elicit any empathy to speak of. It is difficult to keep everything straight, in any case. With unfulfilled life and longing suggested at every turning, no flesh is flashed, this bloodlessness perhaps meant to convey repression behind these modern confused lives so like the "turtle" image Manu coins for his wife, who "gets nervous when someone hugs you."
In terms of plotline, the need for resolution is theoretically set up by the appearance in town of a gay photographer who was Irene's college crush. But this theatrical climax proves as false as Irene's decision immediately prior to the ironic surprise birthday party at which waffling Tomás shows up with Ana on his arm.
Apropos of Sofía's entangled love life, Sara has cautioned that "things should end when they have to." Not that the film ends to anyone's satisfaction, but it could equally have ended anywhere and made no difference. Only unemployed movie-freak bar-waitress Cristina (Leonor Watling), who briefly sleeps with Mario in yet another uninvolving involvement, is smart enough to know when to get out. One wonders if director Gay saw the double-entendre irony in his description of this "little, sad movie."
(Released by Messidor Films; not rated by MPAA.)