'Almost 40' ('Casi 40'): Film Review

Courtesy of Buenavida Producciones
Fernando Ramallo and Lucia Jimenez in 'Almost 40.'
Wit, wisdom and simplicity.

Five years after his Goya Award-winning 'Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed,' David Trueba pays homage to a generation of Spaniards struggling with life changes in a two-hander road movie.

David Trueba’s debut, 1996’s The Good Life, also featured the debuts of Fernando Ramallo, as an orphan, and Lucia Jimenez as the older, punkier cousin with whom he falls in love. Twenty years later, Trueba reunites actors and protagonists for the engaging, talkative road movie 'Almost 40.' A Spanish Before Sunset, the film signals that among Spain's directors, Trueba, who's also a novelist, is perhaps the most sensitive to the nuances of the spoken word.

The film's form seems to be one with which Trueba is naturally drawn: His two-hander Madrid, 1987 was built around its dialogues, and the same is true here. Stripped back but very involving, deceptively simple, and bristling with sweet moments of recognition, Almost 40 is grown-up cinema that would slip nicely into edgier festival slots.

In the years since their brief 1996 relationship, Lucia (Jimenez) has had a degree of success as a singer, but now she's married to a professional footballer and has put her career behind her. Tristan (Ramallo), a salesman of eco-friendly makeup products, has achieved less. He sets up a short revival tour for Lucia of bookshops around central Spain. The film basically charts their traveling-light road journey: two people, one van, one guitar, and a bunch of fine ballads.

The script, however, is anything but light. The conversations of this couple of smart, sensitive, insecure and witty individuals are a joy to overhear, with Trueba alert to the potential dangers in the setup of sentimentality and pretentiousness. Though they're (only) 40-year-olds, Lucia and Tristan already have a nostalgic turn of mind, and the sense they give is that the world is moving too fast for them to get a grip on it. Nostalgia and the loss of love are amongst the big themes they touch on, but there's some sharp social satire from the cynical Tristan: "Hitler would have loved gymnasiums with street windows," he reflects bitterly.

The conversations are punctuated with songs taken from Lucia’s performances, a couple of which are sung complete, compellingly delivered by Jimenez. (The best is "Everything Reminds Me of You," actually by the Valencian band Senor Mostaza — Spanish rock is thin on such great choruses.) The lyrics are a kind of commentary on the characters' lives.

Tristan, clearly still in love with Lucia all these years later, looks on adoringly as she plays and sings her old hits. He encourages her to write a new song and, initially reluctant, she does so, playing it quietly to him late at night in a in a pin-drop atmosphere in a hotel bedroom before delivering a moving, intense monologue around the theme of love as a battle against yourself.

Almost 40 is not all such intense lyricism. In one amusing sequence, a local journalist (Carolina Africa), who believes that you can learn about people from looking at their teeth, conducts a terrible interview with Lucia. (She is credited merely as "psychodontologist.") A barman (Vito Sanz) smokes marijuana but blows the smoke into upturned glasses so that the telltale smoke won't leak out — the bars of Spain, once the focus of hard-won social freedoms, have now become heavily legislated institutions.

The performances of Jimenez and Ramallo are naturalistic and nuanced, and it feels to the viewer exactly like they've known each other for 20 years. Lucia is a little world-weary, but resigned to circumstances, while Tristan, as she observes, "still prefers stories to reality" — which is presumably why he set up the trip, seeking a little story that they can both insert into their much-reduced realities.

Julio Cesar Tortuero's photography, mainly there to unobtrusively record the words and reactions of the protagonists, brings out the slightly sepia-tinted melancholy of the towns of central Spain — places that, with their cobbled streets, dim street lights and wood-paneled bars, seem to be refusing to advance into the 21st century. They are an apt setting for a story about two almost-lovers who have learned too early that their best years may already be behind them.

Production companies: Buenavida Producciones, Perdidos G.C.
Cast: Lucia Jimenez, Fernando Ramallo, Carolina Africa, Vito Sanz
Director-screenwriter-producer: David Trueba
Director of photography: Julio Cesar Tortuero
Editor: Marta Velasco
Sales: Buenavida Producciones

87 minutes