Madrid, 1987: Sundance Film Review

Madrid 1987 Sundance Film H 2012
A stillborn May-November seduction makes for sexual tension and fascinating dialogue.

Writer-director David Trueba gives the May-November romance trope a new spin in this World Dramatic Competition entry with strong art house appeal.

PARK CITY — An engrossing two-hander combining the smart-talk microcosm of My Dinner With Andre and the sexual dynamics of a Philip Roth novel, David Trueba's Madrid, 1987 is more universal than its title suggests and holds a strong art house appeal.

The pairing of a cultured older man and beautiful young student is hardly new, but it is rarely examined as directly and affectingly as it is here, where distractions are literally stripped away for most of the film's (slightly too generous) 105 minutes.

PHOTOS: 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Miguel (José Sacristán), a famous newspaper columnist, was recently interviewed for a school project by journalism student Ángela (María Valverde). Naturally smitten, he invites her to the cafe where he bangs out his columns, ostensibly so he can read the profile; before long, he's persuaded her to accompany him back to a painter friend's empty apartment.

The film's first half-hour is stuffed with enough world-wise bon mots to establish Miguel as just the kind of fine mind that could seduce an intellectually hungry youth. His aphorisms, surely well rehearsed but sounding off-the-cuff, will have some viewers wishing for a notebook and pen. But Trueba slowly peels the reputation away once the pair are alone: Miguel's matter-of-fact proposition doesn't work, and when the uninterested Ángela does meet him halfway, he blows it. She winds up retreating to the shower, where he follows and disrobes, accidentally locking the two together in the small bathroom. It's quickly clear that Miguel's clumsiness has not made a sexual conquest more likely.

STORY: Arbitrage: Sundance Film Review

Here the pair spend the bulk of the film, and the awkward exposure of their bodies levels the playing field: No longer imposing, the columnist speaks frankly of his desires and regrets; Ángela, whose eyes betray the pity his flesh inspires, speaks mostly of needing to get home before her parents worry -- though as time goes on, she'll angrily take the opportunity to poke holes in Miguel's worldview.

Trueba spends a little longer than necessary in this claustrophobic room, but patient viewers will relish the subtle shifts between the two characters, who never arrive at a feel-good equilibrium but do leave with insights they didn't possess back at the cafe.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Dramatic Competition
Production Company: Buenavida Producciones
Cast: José Sacristán, María Valverde, Ramon Fontserè, Alberto Ferreiro, Eduardo Antuña, Bárbara de Lemus
Director-Screenwriter: David Trueba
Producer: Jessica Huppert Berman
Director of photography: Leonor Rodríguez
Production designer-Costume designer: Laura Renau
Music: Irene Tremblay
Editor: Marta Velasco
Sales: 6 Sales, Mar Abadín,
No rating, 105 minutes