Judge Bill Gibron knows it take more than knowing how to love to stay alive.
"At first I was afraid, I was petrified…"
Marga is a feisty young woman who has sought to slip out from under her parents' control her entire adult life. Slowly, and with significant help from her best friend Trini, she begins to come into her own. Just when it seems Marga has her life together, tragedy comes calling with a vengeance. First, she loses her job when Trini sells her out to the adulterous boss (whom the gal pal is sleeping with). The layoff causes financial problems, but at least Marga has her main man Roberto. Without warning, said boyfriend is killed in a car accident, leaving Marga alone and pregnant with his son. Hoping to make ends meet, she takes a job at a local video store. As time passes and her child grows, she ends up owning the establishment.
One day, Iñaqui walks into her store and the attraction is instantaneous. Marga falls head over heels for the dark and mysterious hunk. And he seems to really like her. But there is a problem. Iñaqui is gay. Or perhaps, it is better to say he is a very confused homosexual. Whatever the case may be, he adores Marga and they seem to make a perfect couple. But biology and psychology have a way of messing up even the most promising love affair, and as their level of commitment deepens, the potential pitfalls to Marga and Iñaqui's relationship grow wider. Can the lifestyle-crossed lovers find a way to make their devotion work? Or will they only find themselves alone again, filled with despair and thinking to themselves "I Will Survive" as their hearts slowly break?
A little unfocused as it starts, and slow to unfold its eventual delights, I Will Survive (translated from the original Spanish title Sobreviviré) is kind of a motion picture irregularity. It wants to be a romantic comedy, but it keeps injecting tragedy and despair into the plot to provide obstacles to the "happily every after." This makes the movie a little disconcerting at times. It also wants to be a politically sensitive exploration of the differences and the possible interpersonal interactions between men—specifically gay men—and women. But it appears to be afraid to tackle such issues head-on, and instead hints and insinuates at the possible problems and considerations.
In essence, I Will Survive is an overly cautious cautionary tale, a tricky testament to the very fickle and fated nature of love and lifestyle choice. It uses the basics of quixotic pleasantry to say some serious things about sexual identity and societal roles (especially in the highly religious nation of Spain) while occasionally perverting those principles for its own interests (especially in the surprisingly frank ending). But the overall effect is less than enlightening. We never really get to understand our lovers and the reasons for their infatuation/frustration. Potentially provocative subplots (Trini's infidelity with the boss, Marga's son, Iñaqui's ex-boyfriend and the art community) are tossed by the wayside for meaningless montages to life and lust. We wonder how a practicing homosexual, obviously ensconced in the entire way of life, can suddenly stop with the sodomy and enjoy sex with a woman. And we conjecture on what it says about Marga's self-esteem that she sleeps with a gay man and assumes she has both "cured" him and deserves nothing better herself. I Will Survive cannot answer these questions and, frankly, it never really wanted to try. It is using hot-button issues to push along a passive narrative, and that is never a good cinematic idea.
This simple movie—with intricate issues inside—is good, but not great. It fails to pull off the emotional hat trick of having us care for Marga, Iñaqui, and their relationship. We do tend to root for the miserable widow, especially as played by Emma Suarez with a wide face of fragile honesty. But Juan Diego Botto takes his role of the gay Romeo too seriously, balking with unavoidable angst every time situations get serious or sincere. As a couple, there is a nice chemistry between the two, and each can portray both strength and vulnerability in completely believable fashion. Indeed, the best part about I Will Survive is the performances. Even with characters that should resonate as clichés or archetypes, the actors manage to overcome the formulaic to create winning individuals. Never once is a stereotype stationed among the other homosexuals, and principles that should be annoying (like the Grand Dame of Cuban kookery Rosa, as played by Mirta Ibarra) find the decency behind the disheartening.
But good performances alone cannot save I Will Survive. The movie needs more of a heavy heart and the filmmakers cannot craft such somber sentiments. Co-directed with far too much self-awareness by the team of Alfonso Albacete and David Menkes, there are too many camera tricks and fancy fade-outs to keep the story from shifting. The duo keeps trying to impose dreamy and wistful elements onto their topical tale to keep it light and airy. Yet their use of the beautiful Henry Mancini standard Moon River seems cute and cloying, more of a fabrication than a relationship factor. I Will Survive is like a writer who keeps rethinking his story as he goes along. The lack of a clear atmosphere or tone turns what could have been passionate into just passable.
TLA Releasing offers this film in a very skimpy package. All we get are a set of trailers for other foreign films. No commentaries or behind the scenes footage. No information about the directors or the cast—just an anamorphic widescreen image with decent sound. I Will Survive is a 1.66:1 letterboxed presentation with sharp, crisp contrasts and a nice use of color. The director's visual style, one that incorporates a great deal of light and luminosity, tends to fade the picture. But overall, the transfer is very good. The Dolby Digital Stereo sound is very evocative; capturing the ambiance of the city and the rapid-fire Spanish dialogue with ease. The subtitles, on the other hand, race across the screen trying to keep up with the scenes and that means that, occasionally, you miss moments of conversation—and I Will Survive needs all the interpretation it can get.
While the end result is a movie that meanders about but eventually figures out a way to make its pretty point, it's also nothing especially wonderful. The ending, as stated before, really does help to balance out the sugarplum fantasy facets that came before, and this film is head and shoulders above Hollywood hokum based in the same situations. But instead of trying to laugh or lie its way out, I Will Survive decides to travel down Sentimental Street and the journey is filled with potholes and problems. This is one romance that's built on convenience, not true ardor.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
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