‘The Obscure Spring’ (‘Las oscuras primaveras’): Miami Review

Courtesy of Alebrije Producciones
Fifty shades of grim

Erotic Mexican drama which took the Grand Jury Prize at the recent Miami film festival

A highly stylized take on a standard matrimonial infidelity yarn, The Obscure Spring is, just as its title suggests, bleak on all levels. Though well-played and well-intentioned in its exploration of the bad things that can happen when sex and love are uncoupled, this is technically accomplished but self-consciously ponderous, ideas-driven fare, weighed down with a self-importance which reveals itself in stylistic tics that stall human engagement. Ernesto Contreras' debut, 2007’s Blue Eyelids, was a lighter affair which made a significant flutter at festivals, and Spring's Miami win suggest that this altogether less colorful item could follow a similar path.

The opening scene, backgrounded by a synthetic sound somewhere between electronic noise and music which will be overused throughout, has Pina (Irene Azuela) and Igor (Jose Maria Yazpik, most familiar for his role in Almodovar’s I’m So Excited) narrowly failing to make out among the tubing and pipes of the basement in the photocopier factory where he’s the plumber and she delivers the coffee. There’s an intense sexual passion between them which will continue unfulfilled for some time yet. When it is finally fulfilled, it is heavy with a real erotic charge.

Spring follows Eyelids in moving between the stories of two people who can’t quite manage to get it together. Igor is locked into a childless marriage with nervy Flora (Cecilia Suarez, who also starred in Eyelids) and into a routine existence which involves little more excitement than visits to the cinema. As a character, the testosterone-driven animal that Igor becomes whenever he gets a whiff of Pina sits a little awkwardly beside the timid, subservient chap he is at home, which might just be because he loves Flora.

Pina’s life is also limited by love's impositions. She lives alone with her vengeful, manipulative young son Lorenzo (Hayden Meyenberg, excellent), who blames her for the breakup of the marriage. He’s regularly the victim of Pina’s outbursts. About an hour in, each of the protags does an odd thing: Pina throws out all Lorenzo’s toys, while Igor uses all Flora's savings to buy a photocopier.

Rarely do any of the characters smile: every relationship is contaminated with guilt and uncertainty, and every relationship is a brake on the chance of more fulfilling relationships elsewhere. There is the sense throughout that director Contreras is straining to leave his own stylistic imprimatur on what is, after all, a fairly standard tale of passions and infidelities. Rather than deliver some counterpoint to this prevailing glum, wintry mood, Contreras and his scriptwriter brother overload the doom and gloom wherever possible, and rarely subtly.

When a toy falls from an upper floor of a tenement block, the camera stays and watches the damaged item rocking back and forth to stillness; the grim, unhappy face-offs between Pina and Lorenzo are repeated time and time again, adding little except further claustrophobia; the visual darkness, barring Pina’s rather sad, leopard-skin undies, is pretty much unrelieved; and then there is that ever-present Teutonic synth-laden music.

The characters are well-played, and the ensemble cast took the best award at Miami. Suarez, whose sufferings at least generate a little audience engagement, stands out. But psychological complexity -- which Pina and Igor, both damaged, have in spades -- does not necessarily make for interesting characters, or indeed for sympathy. There’s the sense that these people are ciphers for the rather schematic script’s ideas, pushed and pulled around like chess pieces as events slowly proceed to a final, inevitable tragedy.

Production company: Agencia SHA, Alebrije Producciones

Cast: Jose Maria Yazpik, Irene Azuela, Cecilia Suarez, Margarita Sanz, Hayden Meyenberg

Director: Ernesto Contreras

Screenwriter: Carlos Contreras

Producers: Luis Albores, Erika Avila, Carlos Mesa, Eamon O’Farril

Executive producer: Monica Lozano

Director of photography: Tonatiuh Martinez

Editor: Valentina Leduc

Composer: Emmanuel del Real

Sales: Agencia SHA

No rating, 100 minutes