'The Bride' ('La novia'): San Sebastian Review

Courtesy of San Sebastian International Film Festival
Glossily pretty stab at transferring a masterpiece from stage to screen.

Imma Cuesta and Alex Garcia star in Paula Ortiz' adaptation of the Federico Garcia Lorca classic 'Blood Wedding.'

Bodily fluids are picturesquely and languorously spilt in Paula Ortiz's Blood Wedding, latest big-screen adaptation of what is perhaps the 20th century's most famous and revered Spanish play. While in zero danger of supplanting Carlos Saura's 1981 flamenco re-imagining of the torridly stylized 1932 classic by the ill-fated Federico Garcia Lorca, this lavishly pretty, respectfully reverent affair — Ortiz's follow-up to quadruple Goya nominee Chrysalis (2011) — can nevertheless look forward to respectable box-office returns at home on late-November release. Elsewhere, festivals will want to give it a look, while the international cachet of the perennially-popular Lorca may lead to limited arthouse exposure in receptive territories. 

Locating the action in a zone of carefully unspecified time and place clothes and cars span from the 1920s to the 1950s, but all light is from candles or gas-lanterns — Ortiz's most successful gambit is to film the exteriors in the majestically alien, dusty-russet, windblown landscapes of Cappadoccia, central Turkey (this is a Spain-Turkey-Germany co-production). Via Miguel Angel Amoedo's widescreen cinematography, these provide sumptuous backdrops for an essentially simple, even fable-like story that boils down to a classic, ill-starred love-triangle. The Bride (Imma Cuesta) has known The Groom (Asier Etxeandia) since childhood, when the pair palled around with Leonardo (Alex Garcia) — the only character identified by name.

Now grown into a smoldering, bearded hunk seldom seen out of the saddle, Leonardo has a bride of his own (Leticia Dolera) — the pair are parents to a small baby —  but clearly carries a torch for his former paramour. Events come to a suitably melodramatic head on the Bride and Groom's wedding-day, when after the low-key ceremony the lass elopes with Leonardo and duly is pursued by her vengeful new spouse. The cataclysmic consequences of all this are clear from the prologue, which frames the bulk of the action in flashback and casts a heavily doom-laden shadow over all that follows.

Adhering closely to the poetic dialogue of Lorca's text and generally eschewing artistic risks (the use of a Leonard Cohen song at a crucial juncture notwithstanding), Ortiz and her co-writer Javier Garcia Arredondo adopt a tricky time-hopping structure — much easier to pull off on screen than on stage, of course. The escalating narrartive is punctuated by kitschy-hallucinatory episodes in which the Bride is haunted and taunted by a witch-like older woman (Maria Alfonsa Rosso) who may or may not be a figment of her (schizophrenic?) imagination.

Cuesta and Garcia make for a decidedly attractive couple, even to the point that the film occasionally curdles into perfume-advert/telenovela banality. But their carnal chemistry does at least serve to counterbalance the occasionally over-wrought thesping of Etxeandia. None of the younger generation can, however, dream of matching veteran Luisa Gavasa, the proverbial force of nature as the Groom's widowed mother. A steely-eyed matriarch clad in the black weeds of viduity, Gavasa is given ample space to deliver a masterclass of powerhouse emoting, and emerges as the only element truly worthy of comparison with the Greek and Elizabethan tragedies to which Lorca respectfully harks back.

Production companies: Get In the Picture, REC, Mantar, Cine Chromatix
Cast: Imma Cuesta, Asier Etxeandia, Alex Garcia, Luisa Gavasa, Carlos Alvarez-Novoa, Maria Alfonsa Rosso
Director: Paula Ortiz
Screenwriters: Paula Ortiz, Javier Garcia Arredondo
Producers: Alex Lafuente, Rosana Tomas, Ufuk Genc, Janosch Benz
Cinematographer: Miguel Angel Amoedo
Production designers: Jesus Bosqued, Pilar Quintana
Costume designer: Arantxa Ezquerro
Editor: Javier Garcia Arredondo
Composer: Shigeru Umebayashi
Casting: Jesus Alibues Ezonerro
Sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam
No Rating, 96 minutes