We All Want What's Best for Her (Tots volem el millor per a ella): Film Review
A follow-up to her award-winning debut from one-to-watch Catalan director Mar Coll, one of a lengthening list of successes to emerge from the Catalan Film School.
“Happiness is in the small things,” states a billboard ad for pain killers in We All Want the Best for Her, and much the same is true of the film itself. A well-observed, fastidiously-made take on a middle class woman’s struggle to find her place in the world, the film feels a little like a Jane Austen novel updated and transplanted to Catalonia. The nuance and complexity of Nora Navas’ performance doesn’t always spread successfully out into the rest of the film, but this performance alone is enough to recommend it to festivals with an interested in the sadly underrepresented area of Spanish women’s cinema.
38-year-old Geni (Navas) has suffered a car crash from which she’s now slowly recovering, but the experience has left her feeling somewhat dislocated. Her family, mainly husband Dani (Pau Dura), are smothering her with kindness in their attempts to return Geni to her former position in life as wife and professional, but she’s come to realize that perhaps that isn’t the kind of life she wants any more. She wants out: she is pretending to Dani that she’s returned to work but hasn’t done so. No one in family understands this, given that the meanings of their own lives are defined by the work they do.
Geni’s neurotic sister Raquel (Agata Roca) sets up a job interview for her which is an embarrassing experience for all involved, but Geni leaves it with the promise of a renewed friendship with old school pal and loose cannon, Argentinian hippie Mariana (Valeria Bertucceli). Together they attend a school reunion at which the pair end up giggling, like the schoolgirls they were, at everyone else’s conventionality. Mariana, who’s obviously also alienated in her own way, seems to be offering Geni the kind of companionship she needs, but it won’t be that simple. Despite having the potential to be Geni’s Mr Darcy equivalent, in the end Mariana turns out to be more conventional than she appears.
Nora Navas, best known to foreign viewers for her performance in Agusti Villaronga’s Black Bread, deservedly took Best Actress at Spain’s Valladolid festival for her performance here, which can be described as “otherworldly.” Significantly, her accident has made it hard for Geni to speak, but this is just the start of the ways that Navas shows the character to be simultaneously living inside and outside society: what initially comes over to the viewer as simply oddness is actually, it becomes clear, a strategy for keeping at a distance those who wish to control her life. Needy, but not knowing, quite what it is that she needs, Geni is a wonderful , and very particular, creation.
However, the script condemns outright the other characters’ desire to protect her as simply a stifling influence on her life. Dani, who suffers at the hands of Geni’s thoughtlessness, also suffers at the hands of a script which, having established that he’s basically well meaning, then simply judges his good intentions to be more cage-building around Geni. There’s the feeling that if Geni were to sit down and explain to Dani what it was that she actually wanted, then he might understand her better: but the script doesn’t allow this to happen. This creates a dynamic for the film which can be described as “Geni good, everyone else bad,” an unsubtle stance when subtleties are so much in evidence everywhere else.
In its depiction of certain moments of their marriage, for example, the film is compassionate: one scene showing Geni instigating sex with Dani but gently being rejected by him, it tremblingly tense in its unflinchingness and superbly played. The bemused observations of Geni’s father at a family reunion are likewise nicely judged, consolidating Coll’s reputation as the sharp observer of family foibles she showed herself to be in her debut, Three Days with the Family.
Classical violin music underscores the film’s air of quiet formality, at some points giving way to a sprightly jazz themes which suggest a Woody Allen score. Neus Olle’s camera work is unobtrusive. Both Catalan and Spanish languages are used.
Production: Escandalo Films, ICEC
Cast: Nora Navas, Valeria Bertuccelli, Pau Dura, Agata Roca, Jordi Costa, Clara Segura
Director: Mar Coll
Screenwriter: Coll, Valentina Viso
Producers: Sergi Casamitjana, Lita Roig, Aintza Serra
Director of photography: Neus Olle
Music: Maik Maier
Production designer: Xenia Besora
Editor: Aina Calleja
Sound: Eric Arajol
Wardobe: Angelica Munoz
Sales: Alfa Pictures
No rating, 100 minutes
Sundance: On the Scene