Blue Lips

The usual anthology film formula of interconnected characters and overarching themes overshadows this energetically-shot drama.
Blue Lips

Image: supplied

If occasions such as Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve can form the basis for anthology films linked not only by date but also by theme – and exploring the exploits of a web of interweaved strangers – then so too can the commencement of the festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. That may not have been the exact thought process followed by former film school colleagues turned co-directors Daniela De Carlo, Julieta Lima, Gustavo Lipsztein, Antonello Novellino, Nacho Ruipérez and Nobu Shima in conjuring the concept for Blue Lips; however it is certainly the appearance given by the end result. As the Spanish-language effort follows six people drawn to the annual running of the bulls, it bears more resemblance than perhaps expected to its Hollywood counterparts.

Here, the sextet of souls converges upon the Spanish city looking to rekindle the spark of vitality that they've lost. Their origins vary, as does the minutia that has gathered them in the same time and place, spanning general dissatisfaction with their lives, health woes, and family and relationship issues. Each character is introduced individually, their tales pieced together in turn until signs of connection emerge. Indeed, as chance encounters inspire wholesale learnings, that first-time writers Amaya Muruzabal and Daniel Mediavilla pledge allegiance to the usual template evident in overlapping narratives couldn't be more apparent. 

One-time Hawaiian beauty queen Kalani (newcomer Keona Cross) seeks her boyfriend, Argentinian teen Malena (Malena Sánchez, Arrebato) is receiving medical treatment, and though widow Sagrario (Mariana Cordero, Spanish TV's El Rey) is a local, her lingering grief leaves her similarly searching. After being forced into retirement due to injury, Brazilian soccer star Guido Gol (Dudu Azevedo, Qualquer Gato Vira-Lata) is shooting a television commercial, while American writer Oliver (Avi Rothman, Missed Connections) covers his return to the spotlight and Italian photographer Vittorio (Simone Castano, also a feature debutant) snaps the accompanying photos, both journalists diving into their work to escape problems at home.

As each of the primary figures within the film's orbit interact – some overtly, others incidentally – Blue Lips can't escape its inherent obviousness. Such a bugbear applies not only to the routine dramas central to the feature, but to the way the tales traverse predictable, traditional narrative arcs, commencing with an unhappy situation, navigating an unexpected catalyst for change, and building towards an inevitable revelation. The pursuit of a grand, overarching statement is given preference, with painting the characters and their circumstances with delicacy and depth falling by the wayside. Little room is given for emotional nuance, nor for performances that do anything more than hit the blatant marks dictated by the material.

Instead, courtesy of the contribution of six helmers, it is the look rather than the feel of Blue Lips that shows the most promise. Each segment starts with a distinctive style – and while the artistic idiosyncrasies of each director recede rather than rise as the feature's threads are tied together, the cohort are clearly concerned with making the most of their iconic setting. With cinematographer Robert Christopher Webb (DVK: Starring Daniel Van Kirk), the filmmakers capture the chaos of 1.5 million people crammed within 1.5 square miles from every angle as they weave through the crowds and the action. Combined with the instrumental efforts of editors Jordi López (Menu for Two) and Ana Pfaff (ReMine: The Last Working Class Movement), the aesthetic approach invests a much-needed sense of energy into the otherwise formulaic anthology film, as well as urgency and immediacy into stories lacking surprise otherwise. 

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Blue Lips                                                                                     
Directors: Daniela De Carlo, Julieta Lima, Gustavo Lipsztein, Antonello Novellino, Nacho Ruipérez and Nobu Shima
Spain | Brazil | Italy | USA | Argentina, 2014, 90 mins

Spanish Film Festival
Sydney: 21 April – 10 May
Melbourne: 22 April – 10 May
Canberra: 23 April – 6 May
Perth: 23 April – 6 May
Brisbane: 29 April – 13 May
Byron Bay: 30 April – 7 May
Adelaide: 6 – 20 May
Hobart: 7 – 13 May

Sarah Ward

Monday 27 April, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay