Judge P.S. Colbert lustily recalls Mount Prospect, Illinois, 1987.
"What Would Shakespeare Do?"
Lights come up on a blistering August Saturday morning in Madrid, 1987.
"It's gonna be so hot the wastebaskets melt," observes a waiter in the little cafe where veteran newspaper man Miguel Batalla (José Sacristán) pounds out Monday's editorial on a portable typewriter.
"Don't be so poetic, it'll rub off on me," Miguel growls back. "Stick to the waiter bullshit, I'll handle the columnist bullshit."
The waiter scurries away, unoffended. Miguel comes in nearly every morning to write copy, chain smoke, sip whiskey and maintain the crusty, ever-cynical visage of a man who's witnessed civil war, fascism, democracy, monarchy, and Marxism during his seventy plus years; learning to survive by tilting at windmills with a caustic wit.
His resigned, hang-dog expression changes ever so slightly with the arrival of Angela Castroviejo (Maria Valverde, King Of The Hill), a journalism student whose big round glasses, pinned-up hair, and book collection clutched defensively to her bosom do nothing to disguise her breath-taking, fresh-scrubbed beauty. Angela has brought the first draft of an article she's written after recently interviewing Miguel, and hands it over for his perusal.
Miguel scans the article perfunctorily, scolding her technique while offering back-handed praise. It's obvious that the article is of no consequence to him, that his interest lies purely in sexual conquest, and he begins a running commentary, which combines advice and criticism with flattery and suggestion. His spiel is anything but subtle, and after ascertaining that she's free for the next couple hours, Miguel informs Angela that a painter friend has left him the keys to his apartment while he is out of town for the next few days. Would she care to move the conversation there, where they can "get to know each other" better, uninterrupted by restaurant staff?
Though much younger, considerably less experienced, and somewhat shy; Angela agrees to the change of venue. Once inside the apartment, Miguel plies his student with whiskey and gets down to business.
"I'd like you to take off your clothes for me," he announces, sitting down on his friend's bed. "I'll stay right here. I won't move, I'll just watch. Like I'm taking a stroll through the Prado Museum."
"I won't get naked," Angela replies.
Yada, yada, yada; the couple—both now completely starkers—find themselves trapped in the bathroom. Their clothes, his whiskey and cigarettes are on the other side of the immovable door. For modesty, there's but one bath towel. There are, of course, no cell phones yet, and only the tiniest, slatted window to call for help from. Nobody answers.
With a situation perfectly suited for fellow Spaniard Luis Bunuel, writer-director David Trueba (Two Much) flourishes; delivering a taut, claustrophobic, psychic tug-of-war-cum-ballet that gives this superb actor pairing a chance to play off each other as their characters struggle to camouflage as much of themselves as possible, while confronting each other in the altogether. To correctly label this film as non-pornographic is not to say that it isn't sexually-charged, but kudos to Trueba and cinematographer Leonor Rodriguez for their masterful use of space, and for the expert way they choose when to (and when not to) limit the amount of nudity on-screen. Let's face it, sophisticated as we international cinema fans may be, it's a bit much to ask any viewer to concentrate on much of anything else for important stretches when taking in the unadorned bodies of two people with a half-century of wear between them—the contrast alone is mind-blowing enough!
The screenplay also cheats a bit. Considering Miguel's advanced age, not to mention his copious alcohol and nicotine requirements, it's hard to believe his discomfort isn't much more pronounced. Likewise, Angela started the meeting on an empty stomach, with only some Coca Cola and whiskey to break her fast. Maintaining mental acuity against these deficits, not to mention growing desperation (remember, the apartment owner's not due back for a couple more days, and nobody else seems to be ready or willing to intercede) would probably prove a much greater task as the hours crawl by, ruling out the likelihood of such continued witticism, but sacrificing such verities in the name of artistic license pays off in spades here.
Breaking Glass comes through with a beautiful 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, perfectly complemented by the original Spanish-language soundtrack in 5.1. Surround. English subtitles are provided, and extras are kept to a minimum—a handful of production stills and trailers for other Breaking Glass DVD releases.
I can hardly recommend Madrid, 1987 as a first date movie, but cinefans who list the brain among their top three favorite organs are definitely advised to put this sparkling little gem on their calendars.
Guilty? No. Caliente? Si!
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