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Kamikaze: Malaga Review

Kamikaze Film Still - H 2014

The Bottom Line

True, Spanish film needs more big, bold ideas like this. But 'Kamikaze' almost goes down in flames.

Venue

Malaga Spanish Film Festival (competing)

Director

Alex Pina

A look-at-me debut that attempts to open up a whole new genre –- a feel-good movie about a suicide bomber.

It’s a big, bold movie that has the guts to call itself Kamikaze, and Kamikaze is just such a movie. A bizarre hybrid of genres that wants to do many things but doesn't do any of them very well, the film’s mix of black comedy, romance, melodrama and morality appears to be the work of a confident young Turk, someone who knows he wants to do something different, but can’t successfully follow through on the consequences of his original idea. Technically, Kamikaze is classy, features a good cast and its intriguing premise could attract some offshore interest -- but as a viewing experience, it’s uneven at best.

The early sequences have the persuasive high gloss of the political thriller, as Slatan (Alex Garcia), a Kazakh from the invented former Russian state of Karadjistan – why can the script not have the courage of its convictions and, Borat-style, use a real country? -- straps on a bomb belt and makes his way onto an airplane bound for Madrid. Inevitably there are echoes of United 93.

Due to snow, the flight is canceled and Slatan finds himself holed up in a hotel alongside his intended victims: a big new idea worth getting excited about, which makes the predictable superficiality of what comes afterwards all the more disappointing. Slatan’s fellow passengers are a rather random crew, including garrulous Argentinean shoe-salesman Eugene (Eduardo Blanco), who prefers wearing women’s shoes to men’s; depressed Nancy (Veronica Echegui); recently-bereaved Lola (Carmen Machi, currently visible to millions of Spaniards in Spanish Affair) and her two sons; and bickering honeymoon couple Natalia (Leticia Dolera, [REC] 3) and Camilo (Ivan Massague). Slowly, the group’s positive vibes will start to penetrate the implacable facade of Slatan.

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Early on, Slatan enters a toilet to find Nancy attempting suicide, and quietly bonds with her by miming to her that to do this successfully it’s best to cut along the wrists, not across. Later, she tells him that this made her warm to him, which is presumably supposed to be darkly funny – but like too much of this film, the humor is not rooted in anything real, least of all the characters. By the time the big climax comes around, via a series of sequences ranging from the mildly amusing to the maudlin to the risible, Kamikaze's pilot has ejected.

The suicidal tendencies of both Slatan and Nancy are little more than pegs on which to hang gags; we learn little about either, and showing a few photographs of Slatan’s dead family later on merely represents another of the disconcerting mood shifts of which the film is so fond. And so we go: shoved rudely around from politics, to comedy, to sentimentality, as we head towards Kamikaze’s vacuous moral message, expressed by the unnamed, one-note old man played by Ernesto Alterio.

The script’s relationship with Slatan is awkward, and therefore so, crucially, is the viewer’s. (The message his character delivers, not particularly revealing, is that suicide bombers are people too.) Kamikaze might have worked better if there had been some depth and nuance to Slatan, but the scriptwriters don’t go there. Practically every other character in the film is better-developed than the good-looking and hunky, but sentimentalized and slightly idiotic Kazakh, whose only friend is a cute little dog, presumably alone in being capable of recognizing his inner goodness.

Surely, even from a black comedy, Slatan deserves more. It is possible to fashion black comedy from even darker contexts than this, as say Life is Beautiful showed – but crucially, Roberto Benigni as Guido was multi-dimensional. The powerfully charismatic Garcia nonetheless does an admirable technical job with the role.

Though good actors deliver efficient individual performances, and there are some flashes of wit -- with Blanco standing out as the perpetually upbeat, verbose Eugene and Echegui nobly struggling to switch from suicidal to simpering love interest in the blink of an eye – as a group, they’re never credible. But Spanish audiences will no doubt enjoy Kamikaze’s message that Spaniards’ bonhomie and general joviality is enough to take a suicide bomber’s mind off his pain, and off the pain of his suffering nation too. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not much to take away from a film which started out so rich in potential.

Visuals are truly classy, making the most of the snowscapes of northern Spain – though it’s typical of the film’s wrong-footedness that at one point, whilst hunting for a child who’s gone missing in the snow, two of the characters are briefly caught in picture postcard frame, admiring the view.

Production: Atresmedia Cine, Globomedia Cine, Cangrejo Films

Cast: Alex Garcia, Veronica Echegui, Carmen Machi, Leticia Dolera, Eduardo Blanco, Ivan Massague, Hector Alterio

Director: Alex Pina

Screenwriters: Pina, Ivan Escobar

Producer: Mercedes Gamero, Alex Pina, Daniel Ecija

Executive producers: Jesus Colmenar, Santiago de la Rica, Ricardo Garcia Arrojo

Director of photography: Miguel Angel Amoedo

Production designer: Fernando Gonzalez

Editor: Antonio de Frutos

Music: Manel Santisteban

Wardrobe: Tvist, Cristina Caspuenas, Elena Lahera

Sound: Ignacio Arenas, Ignacio Royo Vilanova

Sales: Atresmedia Cine

No rating, 94 minutes