“Torremolinos 73” is a stylized period drama set in the early seventies in Franco’s oppressive Spain when women were fated to a life centered around the home, and men felt lucky to have jobs. Alfredo (Javier Camara) is the hapless and endearing door-to-door encyclopedia salesman who is told that his profession is dying. He and his wife Carmen (Candela Pena) are invited to a weekend getaway, and Alfredo’s boss makes a presentation about a new division of the publishing company: “reproduction education.” They are asked to film themselves during intimate relations, and a cheesy couple teaches Alfredo and Carmen how. The films, they are told, will only be seen in Scandinavia, and the work is very lucrative.
The couple is months behind in their rent, and Carmen – desperate to have a baby - sees the extra income as a way for them to afford it. So, they agree to make the films. The couple goes home and begins their new career. The initial clumsy attempts at filming make for some fun. But soon Alfredo and Carmen become very skilled at their craft.
Carmen becomes a soft porn star in Scandinavia and Alfredo gets the film director bug and yearns to become the next Ingmar Bergman. Carmen’s desire to have a baby turns into an obsession, which devolves into despondency when she finds out that they are unable to get pregnant. Alfredo’s passion for becoming an auteur turns into an obsession. In the end, they both get what they want – maybe not exactly the way they pictured it – but they seem contented nevertheless.
“Torremolinos 73” is Pablo Berger’s (“Mama,” 1988) second time at the helm. Camara pulls off droll scenes with his deadpan delivery, reminiscent of Peter Seller's Chauncey Gardner in 1979’s “Being There.” In the opening scenes we are treated to watching Alfredo attempt to sell Civil War encyclopedias door-to-door. This could have ended up as a hackneyed drill, but Camara carries it off with verve, and it is very funny.
Carmen’s sincere and innocent demeanor opposite Alfredo’s equally sincere stance creates humor and helps her pull off the role. Camara and Pena both give fresh and strong performances, which make the “reproductive education” scenes come across as charming, rather than sordid.
Although the film gets bogged down and is a bit clunky and protracted in the middle, it still holds up. The innocence, hair and clothing styles, and political backdrop add texture that make it come alive and add to the humor. The couples’ love and devotion for each other is endearing. We see each of them engage in secret gestures that reveal their love, like Carmen not telling Alfredo that it is his problem that they can’t get pregnant, and Alfredo choosing to look at his wife’s photo rather than a seductive model’s. The subtle gestures charm us and make us care about the couple. We root for each to get what he wants. “Torremolinos 73” is a quirky film that takes you by surprise and touches your heart. For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 6/1/05
2003; Director, Pablo Berger; stellar performances by Javier Camara and Candela Pena