Review: ‘Baby Nobody’

Jose Luis Borau, one of the grand old helmers of Spanish cinema, returns after a 10-year layoff with "Baby Nobody," an ambitious but unsatisfying inquiry into some major human questions. Though well acted, effortlessly shot and formidably intelligent, there's little here that recalls Borau's groundbreaking '70s work (like "Furtivos"), and commercial success was clearly far from his mind during the project. Respectful fest showings are a possibility. Evelio (Rafael Alvarez, from gypsy pic "Alma gitana") is a middle-aged teacher of handicapped children who is going out with long-suffering Mari Carmen (Adriana Ozores). Unbeknown to him, she is pregnant with his child. A curious sequence of events leads them to a public poetry reading given by an old man, Damaso (nuanced Jose Castillo), whose existentialist philosophy makes a deep impression on Evelio, who starts to pursue the old man with a fervor bordering on the hysterical.

“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.

Baby Nobody

Spanish

Production

An Alta Films release (in Spain) of an El Iman production, with collaboration of TVE and Canal Plus (Spain). (International sales: El Iman, Barcelona). Produced by Jose Lopez Rodero. Directed, written by Jose Luis Borau.

Crew

Camera (color), Antonio Pueche; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; music, Alvaro de Cardenas; art direction, Ana Alvargonzalez; costume design, Maiki Marin; sound (Dolby), Antonio Bloch, Bela de Costa, Alberto Herenas. Reviewed at Cines Renoir Princesa, Madrid, April 12, 1997. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Evelio ..... Rafael Alvarez Asun ..... Iciar Bollain Damaso ..... Jose Castillo Alex ..... Pedro Alonso Mari Carmen ..... Adriana Ozores
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