Culture clash comedy is alive and well in this wrong-side-of-the-tracks rom-com.
In the national cinemas of European countries, culture clash comedy is alive and well. France has Welcome to the Sticks, which was remade in Italy as Welcome to the South, both films finding humour in the differences between citizens from different regions of their respective settings. Spanish Affair (Ocho apellidos vascos) is happy to continue in the same vein, endeavouring to turn an us-versus-them mentality into broad, easy laughs. That the feature's original title translates to Eight Basque Surnames gives a better indication of the domain it plays within, stranding a Sevillian in what he considers a more provincial area, and lumbering him with the charade that he's a born-and-bred local.
Rafa (feature debutant Dani Rovira) is the unfortunate fellow in the spotlight, journeying north to find Amaia (Clara Lago, The End) after they almost spend the night together. That evening arose from his joking about her origins and her feisty retort to his taunts, so when he lands on her doorstep to return the handbag she left behind, theirs is an adversarial rather than affectionate relationship. In Rafa's attempts to track Amaia down, he accidentally dialled her estranged fisherman father, Koldo (Karra Elejalde, Invader), from her phone, who takes the call as a sign that he should visit. His arrival isn't just unexpected – it leaves Amaia scrambling to explain that she was actually just jilted at the altar, so she convinces Rafa to pretend that he's her fiancé.
Farce is in and subtlety is out in director Emilio Martínez Lázaro (The 13 Roses) and writers Borja Cobeaga and Diego San José's (Amigos) handling of the melange of misunderstandings and mishaps that follow, with another interloper – widow Merche (Carmen Machi, I'm So Excited!), pretending to be Rafa's mother – also getting involved. Any opportunity they see to heighten the disparity between the characters, they seize, pitting the stereotypically upbeat traits of those from Seville against the nationalistic Basques over dinner, in street marches, and during a procession of wedding altercations.
Of course, a narrative of understanding and acceptance is really at work, as it always is in such movies; however the realisations gleaned in what equates to a wrong-side-of-the-tracks rom-com are as generic as the circumstances and observations of cultural differences that they spring from. The performances help little in terms of imparting any nuance, though they do demonstrate ample commitment and comic timing. As the script calls for, Rovira plays hapless, Lago determined and Elejalde overbearing, all with aplomb.
Indeed, their chemistry as bickering would-be family members invests Spanish Affair with the glimpses of screwball fun the material obviously aims to cultivate, but can't pull off while simply painting by the numbers, story-wise. That energy is well needed, too, as it doesn't emanate from Lázaro's helming, however picturesque the gliding camera makes the coastline locale look. The prejudice-heavy gags and city versus country posturing has the Spanish part of the title covered, but it is the cast that makes the movie an affair, even if it's not necessarily worth remembering
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Spanish Affair (Ocho apellidos vascos)
Director: Emilio Martínez Lázaro
Spain, 2014, 98 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
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