People in Places (Gente en sitios): Film Review

People in Places Still - H 2013
Courtesy of Apaches Entertainment

People in Places Still - H 2013

Offbeat to the edge of experimental, this portrait of contemporary crisis-ridden Spain is inevitably patchy, but Cavestany’s sincere, unpretentious attempt to get his ideas across in a novel way means that interest rarely flags.

Free-form portmanteau item from maverick director Juan Cavestany, featuring many of Spain’s best-known actors.

A film which is being hailed by some in Spain as an necessary injection of new blood whilst being derided by others as a cinematic swindle, People in Places actually falls somewhere in between. Director Juan Cavestany picked up his camera and then invited a lot of famous friends from film, theater and TV to semi-improvise tiny slices of life which would add up to a portrait of 2013 Spain, and though the result is indeed as shambling as that sounds, it does add up to an engaging if slight take on a nation in crisis. Cavestany’s against-the-grain but down-to-earth approach deserves further festival exposure.

In this auteurish piece, which is a major advance on 2008's Low Quality People even whilst forcing its logic to new extremes, Cavestany has obviously been aiming at the deceptively haphazard approach to storytelling of, for example, Ricky Gervais or Louis CK, but here it’s often just haphazard: the force of character, the perception and the wit which could have lent it real cumulative power is lacking. Inevitably, the result is a kind of potpourri of shorts linked by the common theme of Spain in crisis: though the film’s fragmentation may be a comment on societal breakdown, it does, despite the best efforts of Raul de Torres’ co-editing, make for a wildly uneven viewing experience.

The comic sketches work the best, and generally deliver. In one, the reliably brilliant Eduard Fernandez is about to pick up his kid from school, only to be told that the moment will be recorded for a news program. After reluctantly agreeing, he is then subjected to take after take until he gets it right. In another, a wife asks her husband whether he notices anything different about her, and when he says no, she reveals that she's had a face transplant. Another has two burglars cleaning up the mess in the house they came to rob. One scene, featuring a man accidentally locked into a car trunk, just peters out, and it’s at moments like this that one wonders whether Cavestany is cleverly subverting audience expectations or is just being sloppy.

Some sketches cut out at a seemingly random point; some are picked up later, others are not. Some could have been longer; some, even at less than three minutes, are boring; and others should simply not be there at all, provoking little more than a question mark in this reviewer's notebook. Some seem to have been included simply to raise eyebrows, as for example when a character played by the reliable Raul Arevalo makes a promise he can't keep to a friend; unable to reveal the truth to him, the pair end up disconsolately wandering around industrial estates in silence.

Rather more effective is the guy who walks around helping people out who have forgotten even the most basic skills – a tramp (apparently someone they met during the shoot) who’s forgotten how to walk, or Antonio de la Torre (currently one of Spain’s higher profile actors), who’s forgotten how to drink. At these points, the film does feel like a punchy political metaphor on how the financial crisis has totally alienated people from themselves, leaving them feeling non-human.

People in Places is rarely lyrical, but its final scene, showing a girl being driven along in the back of a car, just watching the world pass by in dreamy slow motion, is exactly that, and acts as a wonderful counterpoint to all the edgy, borderline hysteria that has defined the film’s tone so far. It’s a register that Cavestany would do well to explore further.

Among the high-profile actors whom Spanish film buffs will enjoy checking out are Santiago Segura (creator of the high-grossing Torrente series), Maribel Verdu (And Your Mother Too, Pan’s Labyrinth), and the aforementioned La Torre.

Production: JCPC, Apaches Entertainment
Cast: Maribel Verdu, Adriana Ugarte, Alberto San Juan, Antonio de la Torre, Santiago Segura, Coque Malla, Ernesto Alterio, Javier Gutierrez, Carlos Areces, Irene Escolar, Raul Arevalo, Eduard Fernandez, Tristan Ulloa, Diego Martin
Director, screenwriter, photography: Juan Cavestany
Producer: Cavestany, Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Editor: Cavestany, Raul de Torres
Music: Nick Powell, Aaron Rux
Sales: Apaches Entertainment
No rating, 83 minutes