Torremolinos 73

Comedy set in Franco's Spain about middle-aged gonzo pornsters with a passion for Bergman.

By Tara P Woolnough

Pablo Berger’s debut feature film, Torremolinos 73, is something of a curiosity, combining Spanish with Scandinavian sensibilities. Set in Franco’s Spain of the early ‘70s, the plot revolves around an unexceptional couple, Alfredo (Javier Camara) and Carmen Lopez (Candela Pena), and the exceptional turn that their lives take.

Although they enjoy a good relationship with one another, Carmen is clearly bored with her beauty parlour job, and desperate to have a baby, whilst Alfredo is struggling and unhappy in his job as an encyclopaedia salesman. When Alfredo is called in to see his boss, Don Carlos, he is initially alarmed to hear that door-to-door sales are to be discontinued, fearing that he is about to lose his job. Instead, Don Carlos makes a surprising proposition in inviting Alfredo and his wife to participate in the Spanish contribution to a Danish world encyclopaedia of reproduction, by making ‘scientific’ movies with a Super-8. Quite understandably, Alfredo at first feels reluctant to share his wife’s body with a wider audience; but the assurance that the films will not be distributed outside Scandinavia, and the fact that he will otherwise find himself unemployed when they are already in arrears with the rent, persuade him to reconsider. So it is that the distinctly unappealing prospect of making and starring in porno movies soon becomes a reality, and having been shown the ropes by a veteran Danish couple, it is not long before Alfredo and Carmen are busily and entertainingly producing domestic porn. Their style of DIY movie-making comes across as a kind of comic perversion of the Dogme 95 group’s ‘vow of chastity’, perhaps better rendered here as a ‘vow of promiscuity’… but maybe that was just me?

In any case, this turns out to be a wonderful and lucrative opportunity for them both as their movies meet with remarkable success; Alfredo discovers a passion and a talent for cinematography, growing particularly interested in the work of Ingmar Bergman, and Carmen is delighted that at last they can afford to start trying for a baby. However, it quickly transpires that finances are not the only determining factor in attempting to conceive, and as Carmen becomes increasingly distraught, tension builds between the couple.

With this going on in the background, Alfredo finds himself inspired by the caption on a tacky holiday poster, and fervently sets about writing what is in effect an homage to Bergman, a symbolism-rich feature called 'Torremolinos 73'. Don Carlos loves the script and brings in a Danish crew to assist Alfredo in making the film, naturally with Carmen playing the lead. Yet, further strain is placed upon the couple, as Carmen, having unwittingly entered the world of porno stardom in Scandinavia, attracts much attention from her Danish co-star, to the palpable consternation of Alfredo. Ultimately, Alfredo must make a sacrifice for the sake of both his film and his marriage.

Despite the difficulties that the Lopez’s encounter, Berger maintains an essentially light-hearted humour, averting the invariable discomfort induced by many films of, say, Almodovar, with whom one is tempted to draw comparison, not only because of his standing, in the UK at least, as the most celebrated contemporary Spanish director, but also because it is from his films that British audiences are likely to recognise Javier Camera (Alfredo). My only criticism is that the film ends a little abruptly, but overall Berger’s characters are likeable and sympathetic, and the film’s slightly fantastical plot coupled with its ironic kitsch aesthetic make this an at once comic and highly original pastiche.
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