Judge Jesse Ataide can't sing or dance very well. He'd fit right into this film.
Passion. Punk. Rebellion.
Welcome to El Calentito, an underground club serving as a haven for homosexuals, transsexuals, punk rockers, anarchists and other so-called "degenerates" in post-Franco Spain. If not quite as sexually liberated as the John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, it's certainly the most rockin', raucous spot to be found in 1980's Spain.
Sara (Veronica Sanchez, South from Granada) is first initiated into this world when taken there by her boyfriend who quickly abandons her when it becomes obvious she's a bit frigid. Discovered in the early hours of the morning huddled over the toilet by one of female members of the bar's feature band Las Siux, Sara is soon convinced to stand in for a bandmate who has abandoned the group on the eve of a potential recording contract. What begins as a favor quickly turns into Sara's means of escaping her overbearing mother and conservative upbringing, and with the help of bandmates Carmen (Ruth Diaz) and Leo (Macarena Gomez, 20 Centimeters), Sara begins to fully embrace the punk rock lifestyle and a sense of personal freedom.
El Calentito is a high energy film that has a little bit of everything thrown into it—comedy and drama in equal measures, as well as history, politics, gender issues, documentary footage and a number of musical sequences. The film somehow manages to integrate all of these elements with a startling aplomb, and it's a pleasant surprise at how many plotlines, characters and tone changes the film is able to juggle simultaneously. One senses the influence of Pedro Almodovar's early work in nearly every frame of the film—and indeed, it's no surprise that he was a major artist who emerged from this turbulent moment in Spanish history.
The antics of the three members of Las Siux drive the film—and even if they're not very far off the mark when they scream "our dancing sucks, our singing's even worse" in one of their songs, their energy and enthusiasm seems limitless (indeed the declaration "but we don't care!" finishes off the chorus several lines later). The film itself is marked by the same buoyant sense of fun as it wholeheartedly revels in the thrill of self-discovery which is explored on multiple levels—from Sara's very personal coming-of-age plot thread to the resurfacing of an entire society that had previously been driven underground.
El Calentito an extremely "loud" film, a film full of noise, whether it be the orgiastic shrieks of Las Siux or the bombs and gunfire going off somewhere in the streets above the bar. But one element of the film cuts through all the noise and general clatter—Nuria Gonzalez's exceedingly graceful performance as Antonia, El Calentito's long-time transsexual owner. Despite the constant derision of those from her past and the degrading reality of having to give cops blowjobs in order to keep her bar open, there's a sense of regality in the steely determination that lurks beneath her fragile demeanor. Despite all the surface extravagance of playing a drag queen it's the subtlety she brings to her performance that shines—when her teenage son calls her "mom" for the first time (as he has always insisted on calling her "dad") Gonzalez's facial expressions makes for a heartbreakingly poignant moment to be savored before it disappears into the feverish anarchy and pounding music of the club surrounding her.
The image quality of this DVD is a mixed bag: the colors are vivid and rich, but there's also a hazy, almost blurry quality to the image (the film is not anamorphically enhanced, and it shows). But considering that the audio is a Spanish 2.0 track the film sounds very good—which is crucial, considering how important music and a general club atmosphere is to the film. English subtitles are included, but unfortunately they can't be turned off.
The DVD includes several extras, including a "music video" (in reality it's just a number of assembled clips from the film), but the song itself is subtitled, which is nice considering that it is not when it appears during the film itself. There's also the original theatrical trailer, a gallery that includes a dozen photos from the film, and previews to three other TLA Releasing films.
Even if at times the film gets a little heavy handed in its depiction of the price of freedom, the fun always manages to outweigh El Calentito's flaws.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Music Video
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