At the start of this hilarious Spanish film an aging billionaire’s thoughts turn, as aging billionaire’s thoughts are (probably) wont to do, to his legacy.
After dismissing several ways to memorialise himself he plumps for backing a film. But it has to be the very best film and he soon snaps up the rights to a bestselling novel he hasn’t even read. He demands a top-notch team is assembled at pace and Penelope Cruz, playing Lola Cuevas a Palme D’or winning director of note, is duly hired and opts to cast two actors who work at opposite ends of the creative spectrum.
When they first meet there is an interaction reminiscent of the apocryphal story of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man. The former is said to have mocked the latter’s all-in method approach with the withering; “Why don’t you just try acting?”. In this scenario it’s Antonio Banderas’ blockbuster aficionado Felix who is not convinced by theatrically-trained Oscar Martinez’s Ivan’s pompous approach, so the scene is set for a rehearsal period of burgeoning tension fanned by the flames of Cruz’s increasingly ludicrous attempts to deconstruct and challenge her cast.
I acted a bit as a child and the rehearsal rooms we used were opposite a cemetery in Acton with the highlight of occasionally sharing the lift with a member or two of the cast of Grange Hill. But here the central trio is given the run of a vast, wood-panelled centre owned by our billionaire legacy-seeker, the auditorium of which has been barely used. This arena provides the stage for one of the film’s most electrifying sequences involving an industrial crushing machine and copious amounts of clingfilm.
As a rumination on the vacuous nature of fame and celebrity it ticks every box and as a comedy it has so many laugh-out-loud moments it whipped me away from the real world drama of plummeting sterling and soaring interest rates from the off. Along the way Ivan’s superior piety is properly pricked while Felix reluctantly comes to appreciate elements of Ivan’s process. Flashes of Lola’s ongoing anguish over the burden of her creative gift are by turns laughable and affecting.
It’s on at Plymouth Arts Cinema until 29 September: you might come for the reunion of two of Pedro Almodovar’s most feted collaborators but you’ll stay for the darkly-drawn laughs.
Reviewed by Jemima Laing