as a Young Woman …… Penelope Cruz
as a Young Man …… Gabino Diego
Diana Balaguer …… Ana Belen
Santi Garcia …… Juanjo Puigcorbe
Maria Jose …… Laura Conejero
Vittorio …… Carles Muns
With: Javer Bardem, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon.
Manuel Gomez Pereira follows his successful “Mouth to Mouth” with “Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health,” a big-budget, entertaining romantic romp that has the sales potential to seriously improve the producer-director’s wealth. Pic has done better home B.O. in its first week than anything since Fernando Trueba’s “Two Much” a year ago, and boasts production values that represent a giant leap for the helmer and a small step for the Spanish movie industry. Sharp direction, a pointed, subtle script and creative use of computer technology join forces in a satisfying whole, though for a romantic comedy the film’s ambition to impress strips it of emotional intimacy.
The cast unites the finest in Spanish talent, including cameo roles for the “mouth” tandem of Javer Bardem and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon. From the get-go, as Bernardo Bonezzi’s sumptuous ’50s-style orchestral score plays over satin-backed credits, we know we’re in for something classy.
Diana Balaguer (Mediterranean ice-queen Ana Belen) locks eyes with security guard Santi Garcia (a comically troubled Juanjo Puigcorbe) at a gala dinner held by the Spanish king, and faints. Pic then flashes back 30 years to B&W and the couple’s first meeting — in the hotel room of John Lennon during the Beatles’ legendary 1965 Spanish visit.
The young Diana (Penelope Cruz) has a teenage crush on Lennon but is condemned to lie under a bed with the young Santi (eternally gauche Gabino Diego) as the Beatle gropes a groupie. (Given the time and money spent on inserting Cruz in Beatles footage, “Zelig”-style — and the pic’s otherwise flawless attention to period detail — one could have expected a halfway decent Liverpool accent from the actor voicing Lennon.)
Sexual sparks fly between Diana and Santi, and there unfolds a love affair conducted over 30 years of brief, fateful encounters as the protagonists follow their separate trajectories. Diana’s ambition from the start is to be a glam society hostess, and pic’s final line wittily reveals to what extent she has succeeded. Santi, meanwhile, is happy to settle down to a conventional married existence with Maria Jose (an excellent, world-weary Laura Conejero).
The movie switches back to color — with a change of actors that surprisingly works — after an older Diana falls down some steps after an argument. By now she is on husband No. 2 — Italian tenor Vittorio (well played by Carles Muns) — and there is some fine farce as he scours their apartment in a jealous rage, mid-performance, fittingly dressed as Othello. Film’s most touching scene has Santi and Diana entering a cocktail lounge, unaware of each other, as the pianist plays “Let It Be”; another encounter has them dancing with their respective partners when they leave their bodies, and their souls dance together.
But at just over two hours, the pic’s episodic structure starts to flag, and one less brief encounter would not have made too much difference. Any sense of depth to the relationship is lost as Gomez Pereira breathlessly presses on to the next installment, seemingly afraid of boring his audience. Still, there’s enough old-style, Howard Hawks — like fun to guarantee that boredom is never a major issue, and the movie also neatly doubles as a witty, lovingly portrayed history of Spain’s past three decades.
Script provides plenty of good roles, particularly for Cruz and Belen, as Diana: Unlike “Mouth to Mouth,” the movie is as concerned with the female perspective on romance as with the male. Perfs are all excellent, and tech credits so eye-catching that they occasionally distract from the story.