Review: ‘In Praise of Older Women’

Helmer Manuel Lombardero's "In Praise of Older Women" is a rites-of-passager that fails to provide any new angles on an overworked genre and Stephen Vizinczey's bestseller. Though pic is lovely to look at and has a healthy lack of political correctness, these are not sufficient to compensate for a surprisingly slapdash script from vet Rafael Azcona. A physically gorgeous cast, largely composed of emerging Spanish talent, should make it a modest hit at home, but pic's failure to ignite the emotions is unlikely to win it the praise of offshore auds. Andres (Miguel A. Garcia as a teen, growing into an androgynous young man played by Juan Diego Botto) is sent home to his mother at the start of the Spanish Civil War. He sets off on his bicycle but is intercepted by a group of Republican soldiers and taken to live with them in their camp. Having become an anarchist without knowing what the word means, he discovers the erotic in the flirtatious form of a British countess (Faye Dunaway), a tourist who has been stranded by the war and who sleeps with both cruel anarchist Davalos (Imanol Arias) and Andres during her stay.

The countess is the first older woman whom Andres will encounter in his sub-Freudian search across Spain for his mother. When the countess and her husband leave, Andres is taken to live with Julia (wide-eyed Ingrid Rubio), with whom he makes awkward adolescent love in one of pic’s more successful scenes. Later imprisoned by the fascists, Andres is picked up by his mother, Irene (Carmen Elias), at the end of the war, and taken to live with her and Falangist boyfriend Victor (Angel de Andres Lopez), leading Andres to reflect that he was freer during war than he is during peacetime.

He still has three more women to meet before his sentimental education is complete: earth mother Pilar (Rosana Pastor), from the Republican camp, with whom he literally rolls in the hay; architect’s wife and anti-Fascist intellectual Marta (a non-lip-synched Joanna Pacula), and lively Italian violinist Bobi (Florence Perniel), who is more or less his own age and with whom he falls in love.

Quite why these women are so willing to jump into bed with Andres is never established — unless it is because of Botto’s fabulous eyelashes — and it becomes hard to see pic as anything more than unreconstructed male fantasy. The actresses look like a catalog of different versions of feminine beauty, and Dunaway, though effective, is shot by Jose Luis Alcaine as though she is in a face cream ad.

Pic’s episodic structure means that the script picks up women and drops them as quickly as Andres does. Dramatically, this might have worked if we were allowed to trace the complexities of his spiritual development. But, apart from a few voiceovers from him as narrative links, we are never allowed into his mind.

Botto struggles bravely with a role that is too insubstantial to allow pic to cohere into anything more than the sum of its parts. Despite intermittently witty dialogue, scripter Azcona uncharacteristically fails to turn ideas into action. The political theme is treated similarly sketchily: What is the point of running away from Franco’s Spain to Mussolini’s Italy?

The selection of accompanying songs is entertaining and appropriate, and production values are good, with some memorably lensed landscapes.

In Praise of Older Women

Spanish

Production

A Sogepaq release (in Spain) of a Sogetel/LolaFilms production, with collaboration of Canal Plus (Spain) and Sogepaq. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid.) Produced by Andres Vicente Gomez. Directed by Manuel Lombardero. Screenplay, Rafael Azcona, based on the novel by Stephen Vizinczey.

Crew

Camera (color), Jose Luis Alcaine; editor, Ernest Blasi; art direction, Josep Rosell; costume design, Lala Huete; sound (Dolby), Licio Marcos de Oliveira; associate producers, Fernando de Garcillan, Antonio Saura. Reviewed at Cine Lope de Vega, Madrid, April 11, 1997. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Andres ..... Juan Diego Botto Andres, at age 15 ..... Miguel A. Garcia Countess ..... Faye Dunaway Irene ..... Carmen Elias Marta ..... Joanna Pacula Pilar ..... Rosana Pastor Davalos ..... Imanol Arias Bobi ..... Florence Perniel Julia ..... Ingrid Rubio Victor ..... Angel de Andres Lopez
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