The Queen of Spain - Film Review

By Joshua Kahn

Photo by Gyorgy Slater
The time-tested genre of "movies about movies" has been around almost as long as movies themselves. They're usually joyous, energetic crowd-pleasers (think of recent Oscar winners "The Artist" and "La La Land") that are able to make behind-the-scenes movie magic accessible to a wide audience, which was the style behind Spanish auteur Fernando Trueba's "The Queen of Spain."

The film is a belated sequel to Trueba's 1998 "The Girl of Your Dreams," a comedy-drama which followed a group of filmmakers during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Queen picks up with the same characters twenty years later, post-WWII, and in the midst of Francisco Franco's dictatorial rule over Spain. The fascinating political history of the time is a heavy subtext underneath an otherwise lighthearted backstage farce.

Respected filmmaker Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines), having survived the Holocaust, returns home to Spain and quickly finds a job working with his old friends on the set of a blockbuster American-Spanish biopic of Queen Isabella, starring Oscar-winning star/old flame, Macarena Granada (Penelope Cruz, as effortlessly charming as ever). Beyond this set-up, the plot is little more than a collection of vignettes detailing the comic, behind-the-scenes squabbling and romances of the dozen or so well-defined characters that make up the film-within-a-film's cast and crew, most of which are returning from "The Girl of Your Dreams." The archetypes for a zany backstage farce are all there, from daffy actor (Jorge Sanz) to foppish costume designer (Santiago Segura) to the biopic's cranky American director (a very funny Clive Revill). Even that old stalwart Mandy Patinkin joins in, quietly underplaying his role as the film's blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter.

Photo by Gyorgy Slater
But even with all this comic potential, Queen never really lifts off the ground, so enamored it is with revisiting the characters that helped"The Girl of Your Dreams" sweep the Goya Awards, Spain's equivalent of the Oscars. The tone vacillates wildly between the wacky showbiz elements and the gravity of Fontiveros' political struggles, dragging us through a disjointed mishmash of genres, ranging from backstage farce to prison escape drama. Even when Franco himself shows up to inspect the set, it's unclear what tone the film is striving for. Are we supposed to find the brutal dictator funny? This confusion even extends to stylistic choices, as old Hollywood-style sets and editing wipes appear and disappear seemingly at random.

What keeps the film engaging are the specificities of the individual performances and some of the running gags, like the decrepit director's inability to stay awake long enough to call action. But even the levity of these subplots are undercut by an implied rape scene between Sanz's Spanish actor and an American movie star (played by Patinkin's Princess Bride co-star Cary Elwes) that pulls off the hat trick of being overly long, vaguely homophobic, and having no bearing on the plot whatsoever, leading one to believe that it's included in the movie solely because Trueba thought it would be entertaining.

All that aside, the film is still definitely trying to say something about artistic rebellion under dictatorial rule, how an artifice of power (even in the form of a cobbled-together blockbuster about a centuries old queen) can be enough to bring hope to the disenfranchised masses.

Indie film "The Queen of Spain" is playing at Arena Cinelounge from Aug 18-24.

Posted By Discover Hollywood on August 17, 2017 02:16 pm | Permalink