The Goodbye (La despedida): Film Review

la despedida Film still - H 2014
Courtesy of Airedale Films

la despedida Film still - H 2014

An enjoyable, undemanding trans-European buddy movie/romance which pulses with the same good heart as its characters.

Spaniard Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo’s second feature has been gathering plaudits on the US indie festival circuit.

A quiet revolution has taken place in Spanish comedy recently, with several film makers breaking with tradition to make films which are actually funny. This bold new trend started with Spanish Affair (currently in its 10th consecutive week at the top of the Spanish box office ) and was followed by Paco de Leon’s Carmina and Amen; now comes The Goodbye. A refreshingly unpretentious, good-hearted tale of three friends disposing of their friend’s ashes in Europe, this is low budget, essentially home-made fare with much riding on the script and the characters, and the film delivers on both fronts. 

The Goodbye has played at several festivals outside Spain (and picked up gongs at the London Film Awards and Austin's Cine Las Americas festival), but surprisingly, as yet no Spanish distributor has welcomed in Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo’s superior follow-up to his 2007 sleeper hit Love Expresso.

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A voiceover from beyond the grave informs us that the speaker, Jose (voiced by Javier Godino) has entrusted three friends the task. The trio in question consists of Manu (Diego Paris), a respectably married dentist back home who becomes a wild man when he’s away; unemployed teacher Alex (Bart Santana); and accountant Toni (Joaquin Abad), who has recently broken up (again) with his girlfriend. Jose has left each of them a letter relating his true feelings about each, to be read out in front of the others at the Eiffel Tower, at Annecy, and at the Colosseum in Rome.

That isn’t quite enough story to go round, and the first half of The Goodbye goes too heavy on local color, as our heroes wander admiringly around Paris and Annecy to a musical accompaniment which is generally laid on too thick. Things are just starting to lag when an injection of new interest arrives in the shape of Monica (Marta Nieto), like Alex an unemployed exile who has just arrived in Rome. 

The film unashamedly revels in being politically incorrect, as conversations between thirty-something Spanish males are inevitably going to be -- especially given that thirty-something Spanish males are like twenty-something males in other places. Wives and girlfriends are obstacles in the way of freedom, i.e. happiness, and women’s bodies are the subject of some tasteless, unreconstructed banter. But the dialogue, which sometimes drifts into the engagingly surreal, would be lying if these characters were any other way, and there is never the remotest danger of this nicely-judged script slipping into frat boy-style vulgarity for its own sake.

Another area in which The Goodbye doesn’t pull its punches is in the characters’ attacks on the Spanish economy and on the politicos who have turned Spain, as one character wryly notes, into 'the envy of Europe0'. Neither Alex nor Monica would be there seeking work if unemployment at home wasn’t the way it is, with Monica delivering one particularly vituperative diatribe which echoes similar ones to be heard every day in the streets, living rooms and bars of Spain. Could these explicit critiques of the country be making Spanish distributors nervous?

All performances are fine, though it’s the easy, spontaneous chemistry between the boys that’s the most important thing: as characters, Toni and Alex are on the thin side. They are basically a foil to Manu, a potent, bubbling comic creation, superbly and energetically played by a Diego Paris who promised such good things in Expresso and whose presence here is so strong that the film dies a little whenever he’s not onscreen. Manu is the true spirit of The Goodbye -- generally foul mouthed, though often wittily, his winning compassion for his friends is just as real as the film’s compassion for them is. Crucially to its comedy, there is a tender side to the film which is centered on the irrepressible Manu.

For long stretches, the score is cheesy, low-budget jazz, sounding too like elevator music. But the use of pretty indie folk songs of Australian Rosie Catalano go some way towards making up for it. An anecdote: lacking the budget for shooting permits at the Eiffel Tower, the gang apparently persuaded a kind-hearted local gendarmerie that the ashes they wished to scatter from it were actually those of a real friend.

Production: Airedale Films

Cast: Diego Paris, Bart Santana, Joaquin Abad, Marta Nieto, Javier Godino

Director, producer, screenwriter, photography, sound: Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo

Executive producers: Ricardo J. Ordonez, Anabel Ordonez

Music: Hugo Martin

Sound: Jose Luis Escalona

Sales: Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo

No rating, 84 minutes