Spanish Affair

Culture clash comedy is alive and well in this wrong-side-of-the-tracks rom-com.
Spanish Affair

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

http://www.spanishfilmfestival.com/

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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Sarah Ward

Thursday 30 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