The Plain in Spain | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Plain in Spain 

A Spanish setting for two veteran filmmakers not working at their peak.

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SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • Sony Pictures Classics
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Parallel Mothers
After more than 40 years of feature filmmaking, we know that Pedro Almodóvar can do outrageous melodrama; what's less clear from his latest effort is whether that outrageous melodrama can work when he's playing it dead serious. Penélope Cruz plays a 40-ish professional photographer named Janis, who chooses to keep the unplanned pregnancy resulting from an affair with a married man. In the hospital for her delivery, she befriends another unwed mother-to-be, Ana (Milena Smit), and their lives begin to intertwine in unexpected ways. One of the reasons those ways are unexpected is the use of a device torn from tabloid headlines, though it's given a twist that could have made for a unique spin on the idea. But as earnestly as Cruz plays the emotional turmoil Janis faces, she can't completely make it possible to forget that many of the plot developments here range from improbable to just-plain-dumb. More frustrating still is Almodóvar's attempt to connect this narrative with the lingering generational traumas of the Spanish Civil War, in a way that serves neither the historical context nor the soap-opera theatrics well. Almodóvar certainly still knows his way around a bold, striking visual sensibility, but the kinds of stories he generally prefers to tell really shouldn't be told with a completely straight face. Available Jan 28 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)

MPI MEDIA
  • MPI Media
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Rifkin's Festival
It somehow makes it even harder to know what to do with contemporary Woody Allen movies when it seems that even Woody Allen doesn't know what to do with contemporary Woody Allen movies. Here he travels to Spain for a setting at the San Sebastian Film Festival, where one-time film studies professor/frustrated never-was writer Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn) accompanies his wife Sue (Gina Gershon), a publicist representing an up-and-coming French filmmaker (Louis Garrel). While there and at loose ends, Mort becomes smitten with cardiologist Jo (Elena Anaya), inspiring dreams and musings that take the form of black-and-white nods to classic works by Bergman, Godard, Buñuel and others. "Nod" is really the only appropriate word, as Allen rarely does anything more interesting with the concept than make it a New York cinephile version of "I understood that reference," though Christoph Waltz does a nice job as a chipper version of The Seventh Seal's Death. Yet while Allen waves his hand at a potentially self-aware notion of self-isolating artistic snobbery, this half-baked script feels like little more than the umpteenth variation on the filmmaker's wordy musings on existential angst, marital fidelity and the heart wanting what it wants. His compositions with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro make for a stunning travel brochure, Shawn at least manages something besides a Woody impression as the filmmaker's latest surrogate, and the dialogue makes it clear that continuing to make a movie every year for decades doesn't mean you have found anything new to say. Available Jan. 28 in theaters and via VOD. (PG-13)

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Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Bio:
Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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