I Thought It Was a Party: Film Review

Good performances and exquisite good taste can't make up for the film's failure to hit the emotional spot.

A lonely woman falls for her friend's ex in the third film from on-the-rise Argentinian director Victoria Galardi.

Victoria Galardi’s first two takes on solitude, Lovely Loneliness (co-directed) and Mount Bayo, are charged with a vigor that contrasts appealingly with their melancholy subject matter. I Thought It Was a Party seeks to leap from sharp observational comedy into something deeper, more thoughtful, and more Gallic-flavored, and doesn’t quite succeed. Despite its good intentions, this story about a thirtysomething woman awkwardly caught on the fence between passion and friendship is too muted and careful, leaving it feeling as stranded and inert as its heroine. But there’s still much subtle resonance in evidence here, which will work with Galardi's reputation  to command festival interest for an item which was released in Argentina in early May.

Rising Spanish actress, skittish and insecure Ana (Elena Anaya, best known internationally for Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In), visits the home of her friend Lucia (Valeria Bertucelli) to look after Lucia’s teenage daughter, Abi (Abigail Cohen), while Lucia is away. Lucia has been separated for three years from Ricky (Fernan Miras) and has a new partner, Eduardo (Esteban Bigliardi). Ana sleeps with Ricky, and then Lucia comes back.

It’s a slim premise, and the script slims it down still further by focusing almost exclusively on Ana and Lucia without rounding either of them out. But they do complement one another nicely: Lucia is impetuous and lively and throws herself into life, while Ana seems afraid of commitment: It’s her bad luck that she just happens to fall for her friend’s ex.

Some noisy questions are asked beneath the film’s quiet surface. Is a woman’s first responsibility to her friends or her lovers? Why should she have to make the choice at all? Must a woman choose between an unfulfilling relationship and even more unfulfilling solitude? (The film doesn't suggest that there are any real alternatives.) But all the questions are never galvanized into real dramatic interest, and strangely, given Galardi’s track record, the humor is kept to a minimum.

As with Galardi’s earlier work, the aim is to to uncover emotional truths through clear observation, but this time the actors are trapped inside characters who fail to communicate very much at all. A finely naturalistic actress, Anaya is little more than a radiant presence here, struggling with a role which underscores her solitude too heavily by having her lie next to swimming pools, stare out of train windows or weep in the bathroom. One sequence showing Ana dancing to an attractive indie pop tune feels both overstated and overseen. It’s clear from the start that she hasn’t found her place in the world, and her timidity, though it feels emotionally spot on, becomes increasingly wearying as drama.

Both Loveliness and Bayo were wordy films, showing Galardi’s skill at having characters’ dialogue condemn them out of their own mouths and focusing on moments of social embarrassment. But here, a late poolside showdown between Ana and Lucia apart, those moments mainly take place away from the main story. When Ana tells a potential suitor (Edgardo Castro) that people never forget her face, he replies that he would never forget her face: puzzled, she replies that’s exactly what she just said. Other small pleasures provided by a solid cast include Esteban Lamothe’s watchable comic turn as a gardener and Eduardo’s inevitable faux pas. The wonderful, plaintive score by Spanish guitarist Nine Josele is just the right background for all these goings-on.

Venue: Online, Madrid, June 7

Production companies: Fernando Trueba PC, Gale Cine, Magma Cine

Cast: Elena Anaya, Valeria Bertucelli, Fernán Miras, Esteban Bigliardi, Esteban Lamothe, Abigail Cohen

Director, screenwriter: Victoria Galardi

Producers: Victoria Galardi, Cristina Huete, Cindy Teperman, Nathalia Videla Pena

Executive producers: Daniel Botto

Director of photography: Julian Ledesma

Production designer: Patricia Pernia

Music: Nino Josele

Costume designer: Lala Huete

Editor: Alejandro Brodershon

No rating, 84 minutes