‘Breathless Time’ (‘Tiempo Sin Aire’): Film Review

Courtesy of Latido FIlms
Juana Acosta is the heart and soul of this rangy but only occasionally powerful revenge yarn

Spanish directorial duo’s nation-spanning second feature tackles themes of violence and trauma.

If the title Breathless Time suggests a roller coaster ride of a movie, then Samuel Martin Mateos and Andres Luque Perez’s thematically satisfying but dramatically underpowered sophomore item isn’t it. Intermittently powerful and driven by an intense, faraway performance by Colombian actress Juana Acosta as an embittered mother seeking revenge, the film has been made with impeccable moral intentions and successfully hones in on violence and its effects, but a lack of directorial flair means it never becomes the rich drama its raw material suggests it will be. Commercial prospects look solid in Spanish-speaking territories.

A highly stylized, strikingly composed image of an abandoned body gives way to convincingly grim faux-footage of the Colombian conflict, where the Colombian military is inflicting all sorts of atrocities on local villagers. Nurse Maria (Acosta) and her children are among the victims: during one tense scene, Spaniard Ivan (Felix Gomez), in Colombia to aid the government forces, furtively takes a photograph of her. This is a story in which photographs are crucial.

We next meet Maria as an immigrant in Spain’s Canary Islands, working as a maid. She has moved there with her traumatized son Daniel (Ivan Luengo) to track down Ivan, whom she believes raped and killed her daughter in the jungle. She forms an uneasy friendship with the not quite believable former alcoholic Gonzalo (Carmelo Gomez), a child psychologist who’s looking to Maria for redemption but who seems in bad need of a little therapy himself. Putting this traumatized trio together was probably a good idea on paper, but it never feels alive on the screen. The years pass, but Maria’s desire for revenge continues to burn.

Acosta is, by some distance, the best thing about Time. The film represents a quantum leap for the Spain-based actress, who so far has been restricted to cheesy comedies. Entirely plausible in her grim humorlessness and in her fleeting attempts to be happy, Maria eventually becomes tiresome in her obsessiveness, but Acosta ensures that the performance is not similarly wearying as she explores the nuances of a woman deranged by trauma.

However, too often she’s working in a vacuum. The viewer experiences Gonzalo simply as an interference to the film’s main business, which is Maria. While Gomez has worked in some of Spanish cinema’s flagship projects down the years, here he looks overcooked and out of place, while the credibility of his relationship with Maria is damaged by the fact that Gonzalo never once asks what she actually plans to do with Ivan once she’s located him. Only Adriana Ugarte, as Ivan’s girlfriend Vero, can match Acosta’s intensity, which she does in a richly emotional faceoff between the two women over the film’s final minutes.

But given the subject matter, there are sadly few such potent moments and too many that raise eyebrows. With the Internet available, why have Maria leaf hopelessly through the Yellow Pages with a highlighter pen in search of Ivan? Why, in 2015, have a character turn in a doorway to look back at the camera before leaving us for good? And the editing does not always make neat the regular shuttles between Juan Carlos Gomez’s well-lensed images of Tenerife and Colombia; while the script makes the mistake of showing recreations of violent scenes as they’re being described in voiceover, thus ironically minimizing their impact.

Production company: Hernandez y Fernandez PC, Tornasol Films, Zebra Producciones, La Ignorancia de la Sangre
Cast: Juana Acosta, Felix Gomez, Adriana Ugarte, Carmelo Gomez, Toni Costa, Blanca Rodriguez, Ivan Luengo
Director: Samuel Martin Mateos, Andres Luque Perez
Screenwriter: Javier Echaniz, Juan Gil Bengoa, Samuel Martin Mateos, Andres Luque Perez
Producers: Gerardo Herrero, Jose Maria Fernandez-Velasco, Javier Lopez Blanco
Executive producer: Antonio Saura
Director of photography: Juan Carlos Gomez
Production designer: Edou Hydallgo
Editor: Irene Blecua
Composer: Xavi Font
Casting director:
Sales: Latido Films
No rating, 106 minutes