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A one-time longhair undertakes a long final journey in the evocatively-titled Nightfall in India, the disappointing debut from erstwhile documentary director Chema Rodriguez. Rich in potential, the film is badly let down by failures in rhythm and credibility, sometimes caused by its status as a Spain/Romania/Sweden co-production, with its standout performances from its central tandem and the relationship between them, providing practically the only rewards. Nonetheless those performances and that relationship are enough to justify the existence of a film, which should see festival and possibly some art house play in selected Euro territories.
Ricardo (Juan Diego, who Spanish movie viewers will recognize as a regular face in films ranging from Jamon, jamon to Smoking Room) is an embittered, wheelchair-bound nostalgist and emotional cripple who spends his time watching old Super 8 movies of his times, happy and in love, in India in the 60s. He is being cared for by a Romanian, Dana (Clara Voda, well up to the task of matching Diego’s intensity).
Ricardo decides to make one final overland journey to India, apparently to find his lost love, but actually, it later becomes clear, to seek assisted suicide. He sells his house for cash, buys a beat-up old green minivan and sets off with Dana: Along the way, they’ll pick up a Swedish hitchhiker, Karin (Linda Molin), who essentially seems to have been squeezed into the van for co-production purposes.
The journey takes them via Romania, where Dana has a son and a vengeful husband whom Ricardo nearly kills, and Iran. Then, suddenly, they are in India, and set up for a lengthy, static final scene that contrasts inelegantly with the rather rushed nature of the journey so far.
Nightfall in India is implausible in several ways. Firstly, it’s only in the movies that such a minivan as this can handle a 7,000 mile journey, or that a man whose legs are not strong enough to support his own weight is able to drive it. Neither of these concerns is addressed. At a less specific level, Dana’s interest in this cantankerous, unpleasant individual is never really justified, unless it’s by her own insecurity – but the question of exactly why she would rather spend time with Ricardo than with her own young son is never addressed. “I have the right to fall in love with whoever I want to,” she conveniently protests, but that doesn’t seem to be quite enough.
The role of embittered old man is normally leavened by a little sentimental charm, but, probably to the film’s benefit, Ricardo keeps his well hidden, with the 70-something Diego committing himself fully to a role that looks exhausting both physically and emotionally.
That said, Dana is actually the more interesting character, with more back story, more ambiguities, and more individuality: Ricardo’s character seems to have been built upwards, using strictly recycled materials, from some vague romantic notion about an old hippie trying to travel back in time, while Dana’s seems to come from something the screenwriters have actually observed.
Their well-played, shifting, tormented relationship is the film’s heart and although it’s practically the only praiseworthy thing about the project, it’s strong and intriguing enough to justify the film’s existence. (Relationships between screwed-up Spanish men and kind-hearted Rumanian women seems to be a developing theme in Spanish cinema, if the relationship between Antonio de la Torre and Olympia Melinte in Manuel Martin Cuenca’s Cannibal is anything to go by.)
Inevitably for a shoot that takes in such a range of picturesque locations, there are several fascinating, well-observed on-the-road moments which reveal Rodriguez’s eye as a documentary film maker. But it also feels perfunctory: The only scene in the entire trip which deals with the practical difficulties of the journey itself occurs when they becomes surreally tangled up in a funeral procession in Iran, and it is one the film’s best, precisely because it feels the least scripted and the most spontaneous–the closest, in fact, to documentary.
Hans Lundgren’s score is efficient, but more extensive use is made of the attractively shambolic, plaintive ballads of Marcus Doo and the Secret Family, which generate several sequences which are evocative if unsubtle: “I could drive all night”, sings Marcus to shots of the minivan being driven along, at night.
Production: Sin un duro, Jaleo Films, Strada Film, Atmo
Cast: Juan Diego, Clara Voda, Javier Pereira, Linda Molin
Director: Chema Rodriguez
Sreenwriters: Rodriguez, David Planell, Pablo Burgues
Executive producers: Rodriguez, Alvaro Alonso, Alvaro Suarez, Daniel Mitulescu, Juan Pablo Libossart
Director of photography: Suso Bello
Director of photography: Alex Catalan, Juan Gonzalez
Production designer: Claudia Gonzalez, Javier Le Pera
Editor: Jose Manuel Garcia Moyano
Music: Hans Lundgren
Wardrobe: Esther Vaquero
Sound: Daniel de Zayas, Alvaro Silva Wuth, Aramis Rubio
Sales: Jaleo Films
No rating, 99 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival