I first saw Maria Valverde in Cracks, a film in which she played the new girl at a boarding school, a Spanish beauty who caused irreparable damage with her mere presence. She is definitely stunning, and she has a quality that is both desirable and enviable. When I saw that she was in Madrid, 1987 and that it was a Breaking Glass picture, I took the opportunity to see her again. Not just because she’s attractive, which of course she is, but also because she’s captivating. I was interested to see if she was up to the challenge of an artistic film of this kind, or whether she’d fall flat and come off as just another pretty face. As it turns out, it was actually a little bit of both; she was able to rise to the occasion, but she’s almost too beautiful to be believable. I guess it’s not her fault that she’s gorgeous, and maybe it helped her get a leg up in the business. But just one or two imperfections wouldn’t go amiss, and perhaps they’d help to make her seem more human.
The story is set in Madrid in, wait for it, 1987. Almost the entirety of the action takes place in a bathroom, almost the entirety of the dialogue is between two people, and for reasons to be explained later those two people are naked. But first we meet the characters. One is Angela, a student and a member of an affluent family. She is young, idealistic, and hopes to someday change the world. She wants to become a famous writer, and she idolizes the most popular journalist in the city, Miguel. He is an experienced newspaper man, having written for years, and he has quite a following. He is knowledgeable, cynical, and believes that dreams are for the young. Two people could not be more dissimilar, and yet they are drawn together by Angela’s interest in his mind and Miguel’s interest in her body.
The pair meet in a cafe on a Saturday to discuss a paper that Angela wrote about Miguel. She had interviewed him previously and wanted his critique of her work. So while she was looking for some guidance from a proven veteran, he was looking for something else. With no pretense and with no apology Miguel asks Angela to come to a borrowed flat with him, with the understanding that they will be sleeping together. And while she agrees, she is much more hesitant and unsure of what exactly she is capable of doing with a near complete stranger. But things really get interesting when the couple accidentally lock themselves in a decrepit bathroom. With the mood officially killed and with no hope of getting out any time soon, Angela and Miguel have nothing to do but talk; about their lives, their fears, and each other.
First we ought to touch on the nudity, no pun intended, since that is a major theme of the film. The story is about sex, pure and simple. It is the reason these two are together, it is the reason they are naked, and it is the reason that they are naked together in another man’s bathroom. They both want to sleep with the other, perhaps Miguel more so than Angela, but the desire is there despite the age difference. And that’s where the film starts to go deeper. Yes it’s solely about sex, but who ever said that that was a shallow topic? The film explores the why behind attraction by pairing together such a beautiful young woman and such a grumpy old man. Their ages come to represent more than just their life spans; he has lost all of his ability to dream and hopes that her body can help him see life through the eyes of youth, while she longs to change the world and for that she needs to understand why so many have tried and failed.
But honestly after a while you stop being distracted by their nakedness. It fades into the background and isn’t such a big deal anymore. Early in the film it’s more exciting, more taboo, but then that’s how the couple is feeling; excited, scared, unsure. And when they become trapped in the bathroom that adventure begins to lose its appeal. Their nudity becomes a hindrance, a bother, and finally it becomes a moot point. As they begin to discuss their lives and to exchange philosophies, clothes, or the lack thereof, are forgotten and it becomes more an allusion to stripping one’s self bare emotionally than an actual physical thing. Even the lone towel that they share between them begins to take on a meaning all its own, as they pass it back and forth in a ridiculous act of modesty that seems so pointless; after all, what is there to hide anymore?
For any movie to be remotely good while having only two real characters that pair of actors better be spot on. And for the most part they were. Jose Sacristan was very strong as Miguel; I could have listened to him talk for hours. And I guess I did, as his character was a very eloquent and selfish speaker, sharing so many of his deep views on life that after a while I started to feel like I was the one trapped in a bathroom with him. But even that was well done; I was never tired of Jose, only Miguel. Maria Valverde was strong as well, but not quite so riveting. She played the part of Angela competently, but I was always aware that she was acting and I never fully bought in. Perhaps that can be attributed to her attractiveness, as she was almost too pretty for the setting, and definitely too beautiful to be with this man. However, the chemistry between the two was nice, with he the lecherous desirer and she the innocent desired. And the film as a whole was interesting and original, if not the best piece of cinema you’ve ever seen. If you can get past the nudity and the potential “ick” factor, Madrid, 1987 is a well-acted and thought-provoking film.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video quality in quite good. However, with almost the entire movie taking place inside a dimly lit, pale green tiled bathroom, you never really get much of a chance to enjoy the fine picture.
Audio – The film was shot in Dolby Digital, but there are no sound options on the disc. The dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles, and there are no options to change this; no dubbing or any other language selection.
Extras – There are a few extras with the DVD. One is a Photo Gallery, but it only has eleven still images from the film and featuring the director. And there are six trailers: Madrid, 1987, Laurence Anyways, Stuck to Your Pillow, K-11, Dead in France, and Our Paradise.
Rent It. For an artsy movie about two people stuck naked in a bathroom together, you could do much worse. The plot seems farfetched, but if you can get past the set up then what you’re left with is a pretty interesting film. It has a lot to say about youth, love, idealism, sex, and life in general. The acting is crisp and the story simple. Video quality is high, audio options are low, and the extras are present if not wonderful. All in all, a conversation piece movie rather than an award winner, but one that you might find enjoyable.
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