Summer Rain



PARK CITY -- "Summer Rain" is a train wreck of a movie. In his second film after "Crazy in Alabama," Antonio Banderas returns to his native Malaga in Spain to film, as he puts it, "memories and thoughts." Funny thing about memories and thoughts: They may reside vividly in a filmmaker's head, but he must express them visually and aurally for a movie audience to embrace them. In "Summer Rain," a tiny, insignificant soap opera gets filtered through images and voiceovers that reach for poetry but scream pretension.

Without Banderas' movie-star celebrity status, the film would never have premiered here at Sundance. Nor is there any audience for this film other than curiosity seekers.

A central location (and the original Spanish title) is the English Road in Malaga, a kind of crossroads leading symbolically many places in front of a popular bar where youthful characters meet and mingle over a long and sometimes rainy -- when the need for "poetry" is most profound -- summer. So many characters drift in and out with little introduction that one never fully works out all the details.

It's the 1970s when Spain is recovering from the Franco era. You would never know that though since Banderas and co-writer Antonio Soler (working from the latter's novel) cocoon their characters from politics, society and all aspects of human relationships that don't include sex, booze or violence.

Teenager Miguelito (Antonio Amarilla) leaves a hospital after a kidney removal inspired to be a poet because a dying patient gave him a copy of Dante's "Divine Comedy." What he pursues though is Luli (Maria Ruiz), a dreamy beauty who longs to be a ballet dancer.

Paco (Felix Gomez) carries on a steamy affair with a girl known only as The Body (Marta Nieto). Babi (Raul Arevalo) obsesses over Bruce Lee and his anger and shame over his mother's involvement in the sex industry in London.

The various affairs, betrayals and revenge ambushes take place at parties, discos and in the streets. Banderas draws out each sequence with slow motion, lingering shots of objects and post-production gimmicks for image manipulation. These get intercut with daydreams and other internalized images, although it's not clear in whose head the movie takes place.

One's patience wears thin almost immediately, to the point that even the brutality and sexual couplings feel remote, activities observed only for their compositional value and juxtaposition to the metaphorical voiceovers.

For non-Spanish speakers, the white subtitles frequently vanish into a sea of white on screen. Memo to all filmmakers seeking international audiences: Do subtitles in yellow! In this case, however, this loss does not feel like a missed opportunity.

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