Hold-Up! (¡Atraco!): San Sebastian Review

Atracto Still - H 2012

Atracto Still - H 2012

A stranger-than-fiction episode from the 1950s becomes a snazzily colorful period-piece with considerable commercial appeal.

Eduard Cortés' film, a Spanish-Argentinian co-production, follows an unusual real-life jewel robbery in mid-50s Spain.

A knockabout heist caper with serious - even tragic - undertones, Hold-Up! (¡Atraco!) is a breezily likeable crime-comedy inspired by a bizarre footnote of 20th century political history. The Spanish/Argentinian co-production revolves around a complicated plan concoted to prevent the wife of Spain's dictator General Franco getting her hands on jewels once owned by Argentina's fabled first lady Eva Perón - 'Evita' for short. And for the most part journeyman director Eduard Cortés juggles its romantic, comic and dramatic elements with slick, audience-friendly aplomb.

It opened strongly in Argentina on August 2, currently standing third among the year's home-grown releases at the box office behind 2+2 and White Elephant. An out-of-competition slot at San Sebastian provided a well-received European premiere, boding well for Spanish release on October 19. Executed with unfussy professionalism by Catalan director/co-writer Cortés, who's long alternated between features and TV movies, Hold-Up! should enjoy very brisk small-screen sales for Spanish-speaking countries and is a solid choice for festivals seeking accessible mainstream fare.

Cortés has already had one stranger-than-fiction caper-type picture in Spanish cinemas this year, the steadily performing April release Winning Streak (a.k.a. The Pelayos), which revolved around a family's elaborate schemes to beat their local casino. Here he turns back the clock to 1955 and, along with co-scriptwriters Piti Español and Marcelo Figueras, liberally interprets the complicated shenanigans which resulted in two Argentine "patriots" staging an armed robbery on a Madrid jewelry store. 

First among equals in the strong ensemble cast is superb veteran Guillermo Francella - the sidekick cop in Argentina's Oscar-winner The Secret in Their Eyes - as staunch Peron loyalist Merello, who can't hide his exasperation with his much younger colleague Miguel (Nicolás Cabré). The robbers' bickering but ultimately warm and filial relationship recalls that between Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell from Martin McDonagh's In Bruges - and, as the policemen on their trail, Óscar Jaenada and Jordi Martínez provide an amusing mirror-image of the same experience/youth dynamic.

Cortés audaciously withholds the entrance of pinup Jaenada until the hour mark, but the many fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean actor won't be disappointed by his strutting machismo and razor-sharp tailoring/coiffure here. Further adding to the picture's considerable Spanish marquee appeal, TV notable Amaia Salamanca (Sin tetas no hay paraíso) - as the stunning nurse who catches Miguel's eye - makes enough of an impression to indicate further big-screen possibilities.

Smartly written, energetically executed and notably well-cast down to the smallest of roles, Hold-Up! consistently impresses a disciplined riot of eyecatching 1950s production-design and costuming courtesy of Edoy Hydallgo and Myriam Ibáñez respectively. Federico Jusid's score pays full-throated homage to the sounds of the era with rousing, blaring big-band contributions from the Budapest Jazz Orchestra. Indeed, the material could easily have been developed into a full-blown musical, one which perhaps might even have featured walk-on parts for the Peróns and the Francos. As it is, these ever-controversial eminences are barely glimpsed in a production which focuses so squarely and sympathetically on the smaller cogs in political history's vast, often pitiless mechanisms.

Venue: San Sebastian - Donostia Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production companies: Pedro Costa P.C., Tornasol Films, Castafiore Films, Argentina Sono Films, Foresta Films
Cast: Nicolás Cabré, Guillermo Francella, Amaia Salamanca, Óscar Jaenada, Daniel Fanego, Jordi Martínez
Director: Eduard Cortés
Screenwriters: Eduard Cortés, Piti Español, Marcelo Figueras
Producer: Pedro Costa, Gerardo Herrero, Luis A. Scalella
Director of photography: David Omedes
Production designer: Edoy Hydallgo
Costume designer: Myriam Ibáñez
Music: Federico Jusid
Editor: Fernando Pardo
Sales agent: Latido Films, Madrid
No MPAA rating, 112 minutes.