'Spanish Affair 2' ('Ocho Apellidos Catalanes'): Film Review

Courtesy of TeleCinco Cinema
Summertime, and the scriptin’ is lazy.

The second installment of the record-breaking Spanish comedy has arrived.

With its playful take on the tensions between Spain’s regions, the status of Emilio Martinez Lazaro’s Summer Affair (2014) as the most successful Spanish film of all time came as a surprise to everyone involved. Less surprising is the producers’ decision to follow up with a sequel which is signally lacking in the ingredient which was so crucial to the original’s success: its charm. Nonetheless, this hotly-anticipated product — seemingly cobbled together in haste with neither love nor respect for its audience from bits of old comedies, is now the most successful film at the Spanish box office this year and the fifth biggest Spanish title ever, meaning that its route to the bank — Universal distributes in Spain — will be tissue strewn.

Spanish Affair dealt with the troubled relationship of Rafa (Dani Rovira) and Amaia (Clara Lago), the daughter of the fiercely Basque Koldo (Karra Elejalde). (Its Spanish title translated as Eight Basque Surnames: the new one is Eight Catalan Surnames: and it’s likely the trawl around the Spanish provinces, and possibly abroad, will continue.)

Rafa and Amaia have broken up, and Amaia has a new boyfriend, Pau (Spanish TV’s flavor of the month, Berto Romero). Horrified that his daughter’s getting hitched to a Catalan hipster, Koldo travels for the first time away from his beloved Basque Country to find Rafa so that together they can sabotage the planned wedding between Amaia and Pau.

Along the way, we meet figures from the original, including Merche (Carmen Machi), who fancies Koldo, and new figures including the wealthy, tight-fisted, fiercely pro-Catalan Roser (vet Rosa Maria Sarda) — this film’s equivalent of Koldo in the earlier films — as Pau’s grandmother: a walking stereotype, she believes that Catalan independence has taken place, a fantasy which Pau has to make real. Once everything is set up, we’re treated to a country house farce in which many of the jokes date back to the comedies of medieval Europe.

The strongest performances are delivered by the vets, particularly the reliable Elejalde, who seems to have realized that in exchange for a paycheck, an actor has to act. At least all the vets can do so: on this evidence, some of the younger generation cannot. But what is perhaps most damaging for the comedy, and hence for the film, is the lack of chemistry between any of the characters. There’s no hint of why Amaia would actually have fallen for a limp-wristed poseur like Pau, or why Merche would be attracted to Koldo. Only one character in the film has anything resembling an authentic emotion, and that is Judith (Belen Cuesta), the wedding planner, secretly in love with Pau.

Spanish Affair 2 is not actually a new film, lazily borrowing ideas from, amongst others, such minor classics as Berlanga’s Welcome Mister Marshall and Good Bye, Lenin -- though both of these has a sharp political edge, supplied by the times at which they were made, which Summer Affair 2 lacks. Its political foresightedness is evidenced by the fact that some of its satire already looks set to be overtaken by real events.

The script is forever squeezing in necessary refs to the first film, but this time around they feel contrived and are therefore unfunny. While in the original, it was important that Rafa showed his invented Basque lineage to Koldo by quickly improvising eight Basque surnames, this time there is no compelling dramatic reason for him to do so. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with a script that seems to have been shot whilst still in development: there’s no compelling reason for anything — apart, of course, from making the film itself.

There are a couple of half decent gags, and a few moments of OK dialogue, though buried in implausible situations. The best comes in the final frames, as Koldo rips a road sign out of the ground and hauls it up a hill to ensure that his grandson is born in the Basque Country. But on the law of diminishing returns, there will sadly be several more installments to sit through before this particular summer is over.

Production company: Lazonafilms, Kowalski Films, Telecinco Cinema

Cast: Dani Rovira, Clara Lago, Karra Elejalde, Carmen Machi, Berto Romero, Rosa María Sarda, Belen Cuesta

Director: Emilio Martinez-Lazaroi

Screenwriter: Borja Cobeaga Diego San Jose

Producers: Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson, Alvaro Agustin

Executive producer: David Naranjo

Director of photography: Gonzalo F. Berridi

Costume designer: Lala Huete

Editor: Angel Hernandez Zoido

Composer: Roque Banos

Casting director: Eva Leira

Sales: Telecinco Cinema

98 minutes