“Ideas,” Damaso tells Evelio, “impose themselves, and it is useless to resist.” Questions of free will and destination are also given a brief airing, and the names of Kant, Einstein and others are dropped. It would be hard enough to understand some of this stuff on the page, let alone in fast-moving dialogue. In its desire to push ideas at the audience, pic forgets it also needs rounded characters to get them across.
Evelio leaves Mari Carmen and strikes up a relationship with attractive, intelligent Asun (Iciar Bollain), the sister of a priest, who gradually sheds her Catholic ideas in favor of pure hedonism. The couple descend into a maelstrom of doubt, unhappiness, poverty and mutual hatred which seems to be the consequence of following Damaso’s nihilistic ideas. Asun eventually abandons Evelio for sexy young visionary Alex (Pedro Alonso), the leader of a sect in which the members take off all their clothes and pray.
Pic is burdened by a host of minor characters, many of whose part in the larger scheme is never clarified. But this is, foremost, cinema of ideas: Borau has said he wanted to explore an age in which non-ideological people have to accept the ideas of philosophers and theologians instead of being free to come to their own conclusions.
Helmer struggles to find a dramatic framework capable of embodying such abstractions, though the pic does achieve moments of powerful insight, largely on account of some heartfelt performances. Tech credits are good, and urban Madrid is strikingly lensed.