‘The Night My Mother Killed My Father’ (‘La Noche Que Mi Madre Mato a Mi Padre’): Film Review
Ines Paris’ country house murder comedy did brisk international sales at the recent Spanish Film Screenings market.
Too many Spanish comedies, and there are lots of them, are hit and miss at best, so it’s good to report that the aim of The Night My Mother Killed My Father is mostly true. Taking its cues from Billy Wilder and Agatha Christie in about equal measure, this engaging and lively item about an unhinged evening in the lives of a group of movie people is very clear about its aims and limitations, and then exploits them with breathless efficiency. Director Inés Paris has been polishing her comic craft since 2002’s My Mother Likes Women, with Night signaling a happy return to form for her following, 2007’s high-concept, low-achievement Miguel and William.
As suggested by the raft of international sales it generated at the Spanish Film Screenings, unlike most Spanish comedy fare, Night is not just for the locals: and more than most, this has real remake potential.
Just turned 40, Isabel (Belen Rueda) sees that her dreams of acting success are fading fast. She has come together at her country home with her grumpy scriptwriter boyfriend Angel (Eduard Fernandez) and heavy-drinking producer Susana (Maria Pujalte) to try and set up a Spanish/Argentinian co-production with Diego (the popular Argentinian comic Diego Peretti, playing himself). Angel is refusing to write Isabel into the new project as she so desperately wants. Late, unexpected arrivals for the evening are Isabel’s ex Carlos (Fele Martinez) and his irritatingly kooky girlfriend Alex (Patricia Montero, the only relative newcomer in a heavyweight cast of seasoned pros).
Slightly unhinged from the start, Isabel goes over the edge after a brief kitchen exchange with Carlos in which he hands her some documents. Susan looks on as there is a bit of showy business involving the dessert, and soon enough Carlos is writhing on the floor in agony, finally messily and bloodily pegging out in the bathroom. As a writer of thrillers, Angel is quick to leap to the conclusion that Isabel has rat-poisoned him. To reveal any more would be to reveal too much.
It’s not clever or original enough to be either Wilder or Christie, but it works. This is mostly down to two things: the breakneck pace, with the initial air of general nervousness quickly ratcheting up into skillfully handled farce as the characters break up and head into the house’s various rooms, and to the performances. Viewers who remember Rueda as the tortured mother from Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage will be pleasantly surprised to see her channeling all that high-strung nervousness into rapid-fire comedy: neither is comedy a genre with which Fernandez is associated, but the actor refocuses his typical quiet intensity to wonderful (and surprisingly physical) effect as he misguidedly and arrogantly tries to play the detective.
To cast two seasoned high-profilers opposite each other in their first explicitly comic roles is a high-risk game, but such dialogue-driven fare demands high-caliber acting in roles of a certain depth, and both duly deliver. They are buttressed by the always agreeable, richly expressive Peretti (initially terrific, but whose role peters out badly over the last third) and Pujalte, whose work has mostly been in comedy (and whose slow decline into unkempt drunkenness is a joy to behold).
Through most of its length, the script hews satisfyingly to the conventions of the country house mystery, to the extent that it could almost have worked as a theater piece. And what it does, it does well. But what Night does not offer is anything original, with the script lacking the confidence to go beyond the filmically tried and tested. So, for example, in one high set-up, low-reward gag Peretti is confused with a plumber, and Montero has a a little too much wig-based business to get through.
Likewise the vanities, pretensions and backbiting of the movie-making class have been amply documented in a thousand comedies prior to this one. But the plot-hinging bathroom scene in the middle, featuring a full-bladdered Diego and a prostrate Carlos, represents a few seconds of pure, achieved hilarity, suggesting that it would be to everyone’s benefit if Paris tried to push the comedy envelope a little further in the future.
Nestor Calvo’s camerawork is often hand-held and busy if unobtrusive, supplying much of the screwball tone of barely-controlled hysteria which perhaps the main key to the film’s charm.
Production company: La Noche Movie, Sangam
Cast: Belen Rueda, Diego Peretti, Eduard Fernandez, Maria Pujalte, Fele Martinez, Patricia Montero
Director: Ines Paris
Screenwriters: Ines Paris, Fernando Colomo
Producer: Beatriz de la Gandara
Executive producer: Jose Luis Rancano
Director of photography: Nestor Calvo
Production designer: Laura Martinez
Costume designer: Vicente Ruiz
Editor: Angel H. Zoido
Composer: Arnau Bataller
Sales: Inside Content
No rating, 93 minutes