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In the context of a Spanish cinematic climate currently dominated by mundane, “safe” comedies seeking to replicate the phenomenal and unexpected success of last year’s Spanish Affair, Requirements To Be A Normal Person wants to be a little different. Quirky and offbeat, like the shy little sister of Amelie or the work of Miranda July, actress Leticia Dolera’s story of an left-field 30-something anxious to fit in is unaffected, enjoyable and disposable fare with a real sense of fun, which makes up for its lack of laughs. Dolera will surely go on to make better films than this, but there’s still enough style, verve and intention to make it required fest viewing.
The premise is strong: at the start and then repeatedly throughout the film, a list of seven ‘requirements for normality’ flash up on the screen, including “home,” “job,” “partner,” “social life” and “happiness.” Unemployed 30-something Maria de la Montana (Dolera, last seen by international auds wielding a chainsaw as the blood-spattered bride in REC 3, lives at home with her mom, Barbara (Silvia Munt), emotionally estranged, and her special needs brother Alex (Jordi Llodra). Maria ticks none of the above boxes, and decides that she’s going to be “normal,” innocently believing that such a thing exists.
Overweight, bespectacled Borja (Manuel Burque, debuting) works at a (heavily product-placed, Swedish) furniture store and shares Maria’s quirky view of things. They agree to help one another: he’ll help her to become normal, she’ll help him to become thin: what’s nice about Borja is that he seems to feel quite comfortable being himself. He also fancies Maria something rotten.
In order to have a social life, Maria calls her old school friend Cristina P (Alejandra Jimenez, from Spanish Movie), who in turn introduces Maria to Gustavo (Miki Esparbe), a cool, good-looking member of the Barcelona arts scene, who leads the kind of life that the film imagines normal people aspire to. What will Maria choose? Will she prefer spending her time with preening arty types, or farting under the bed sheets with Borja?
For a film that’s clearly selling itself as fresh and offbeat, there’s disappointingly little here that’s new — and that includes the concern with farting, that stale-smelling old standby for earthy authenticity. Requirements ticks other boxes, too: in its deja vu satire on self-help books and the pretensions of the art world, for example. But the film wears its cliches lightly, with a certain breezy style.
Ultimately, this is a film about a generation’s insecurity, but Maria is basically upbeat throughout and never truly either insecure or even mildly conflicted: there’s nothing at stake in her efforts to become normal. Thus, although Dolera has a well-established onscreen charm and Maria is engaging in her awkwardness, she can never be interesting. Her film can never have depth, and certainly not the depths of Miranda July’s deceptively slight work. Debutante Burque is likewise pleasant to watch in his naturalness, but his lack of experience is manifested in an occasional flatness, which dampens the spark of Borja’s relationship with Maria.
Visually, the film is a sunny day stroll around the furniture store, which features so large in the film, employing a bright pastel-shaded pop aesthetic that a certain strand of Spanish cinema has been drawing on all the way back as far as 80s Almodovar, right down to the heart-shaped eyewear. Both Maria and her movie have a look that bespeaks “fresh, quirky and indie”, and they’re supplemented well by the jangly acoustic guitar and fragile-voiced score by indie folk singer Luthea Salom.
Production company: Corte y Confeccion de Peliculas, El Estomago de la Vaca, Telefonica Studios
Cast: Leticia Dolera, Manuel Burque, Silvia Munt, Miki Esparbe, Alejandra Jimenez, Jordi Llodra
Director, screenwriter: Leticia Dolera
Producers: Oriol Maymo, Paco Plaza, Axel Kuschevatzky
Executive producers: Gabriel Arias-Salgado
Director of photography: Marc Gomez del Moral
Production designer: Laia Ateca
Costume designer: Vinyet Escobar
Editor: David Gallart
Composer: Luthea Salom
Sales: Acontracorriente Films
No rating, 85 minutes
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