The Wishful Thinkers, Jonas Trueba’s virtually home-made follow-up to the altogether less interesting Every Song Talks about Me, is a black and white celebration of open-handed film making as well as of those old chestnuts: art and life. This black and white portrayal of a group of young Spaniards who share an innocent, unconditional love of film has become something of a cult item amongst film literati in Spain with an inevitably lengthy run of festival screenings likely to extend its appeal to those in the know.
An on-screen text opens things by stating that the film will seek to be transparent, which it pretty much achieves. Wannabe scriptwriter Leon (rumple-haired Francesco Carril) lives with wannabe actor Bruno (Vito Sanz) in the center of Madrid, leading the quasi-bohemian lives of twenty-somethings everywhere – pulling all-nighters in bars talking about life, love books and having no money. Early on, we meet the Swiss Lilian (Isabelle Stoffel), who’s decided to return home because there is no work for her in Madrid, but the rest of the characters are indeed wishful thinkers. Perhaps the most entertaining is film bookshop owner Perucho (Luis Miguel Madrid).
A wishful thinker of romance, Leon also strikes up a hesitant relationship with Sofia (the relatively well-known Aura Garrido), and together they explore Madrid by night. Trueba reinvents the capital as a film maker’s city, and many locations will be recognizable to any lover of film who has ever spent even a couple of nights there.
But the film is also shot through with an air of nostalgia for the golden, pre-digital days when, for example, projectionists had a role to play: at one point, Bruno walks out of a screening to complain that the print he’s watching is surely damaged. “It’s Blu-Ray,” the projectionist informs him.
In the main, the actors are playing people like themselves, which gives their dialog, largely improvised anyway, a fresh, unrehearsed quality. What could so easily have become ponderous and pretentious never does, since Trueba seems determined to keep things grounded and lively. Several sequences, including one where Leon means the real-life director Javier Rebollo – a darling of the Spanish arthouse who’s duly adored by Bruno to the extent that he dreams about Rebollo – are laugh-aloud entertaining. Performances are quietly persuasive, their apparent spontaneity underwritten by Santiago Racaj’s (incidentally Rebollo’s regular d.p.) intimate, quasi-documentary and strikingly shadowed camerawork, with only Garrido occasionally coming over as over-stated and theatrical.
Music – including a grungy full-length song by El Hijo – and onscreen text by thinkers and poets including Emily Dickinson – are also thrown into the mix. But Trueba’s eye for the telling image – a slow, long shot of three friends making their early-morning way home across Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is especially evocative – reveal that there is a careful, controlling eye at work. Although there’s no screenwriter or editor credit, things are not as haphazard as they seem.
The Wishful Thinkers is cinema of the self-reflexive kind and viewers are continually reminded by people holding clapperboards and microphones hoving into view that they’re watching a film about its own making. The effect is sometimes wearisome, as are several oh-so-long shots and its tendency to wordiness over its final reel. But it does mean that the film can itself stand as the affirmation of what its characters so badly want to believe – that it’s still possible for young, creative people to make exactly the kinds of films they want to make. Particularly in a Spain where the film industry is currently under direct threat from poverty, piracy and politicians, The Wishful Thinkers is an affirmation that deserves to be seen.
The film is dedicated to Fernando Trueba, the director’s one-time Oscar-winning father, without whom presumably none of this would have been possible.
Cast: Francesco Carril, Aura Garrido, Mikele Urroz, Vito Sanz, Isabelle Stoffel, Luis Miguel Madrid
Director: Jonas Trueba
Director of photography: Santiago Racaj
Production designer: Miguel Angel Rebollo
Editor: Marta Velasco
Sound: Victor Puertas, Eduardo G. Castro
Sales: Oberon Cinematografica
No rating, 73 minutos