Helmer Manuel Iborra takes a willfully rose-tinted view of the ’60s in the mature but slightly flat nostalgia vehicle “Time of Happiness.” Though pic is well crafted and intermittently affecting, with some terrific perfs, and should resonate with a Spanish generation who cried on the day Janis Joplin died, it is hard to see offshore auds reacting to its Iberian vision of the hippie ethos with anything but mild astonishment.
Pic is the story of a 1970 family summer in Ibiza, on Spain’s southern coast, during the final years of the Franco dictatorship — which is never alluded to, making this an untypical Spanish family. Julia (vet Veronica Forque) is married to actor Fernando (Antonio Resines); Cucho (Pepon Nieto) is the simple-minded eldest son; and Juan (Carlos Fuentes, last seen in Saura’s “Taxi”) is the introvert. Newcomers Maria Adanez, as outgoing Elena, and Silvia Abascal, as confused Veronica, round out a family which nowadays would be called “dysfunctional.”
Narrative charts the development of their various stories with skill. Julia’s ambitions to be an actress have been thwarted by her marriage to the drunken, egocentric Fernando, who uses the free love ideal to defend his adultery and who walks out on Julia after she finds him having sex with someone else. The children, meanwhile, suffer the standard growing pains: Cucho falls in love, after his fashion, with hippie Susi (Clara Sanchis); Veronica falls for hippie Ezequiel (Fele Martinez); and Elena falls for both Ezequiel and bike-riding, free-spirited Leon (Liberto Rabal, grandson of Paco Rabal and the local face of ’97).
With the flame of narrative tension running low, pic depends on character and mood to keep the audience involved. Performances are excellent, with Forque alert to every dramatic nuance and a frenziedly physical Nieto, as Cucho — whose illness stops the family from falling apart completely — also a standout. As the daughters, Adanez and Abascal are strong in good roles, though the men who are the objects of their attention are less well formed. This is a pic that seems to have at least one character too many.
The movie’s pleasures are mainly in its atmosphere. Lenser Hans Burmann lends an appropriately pastel-dominated, slightly hazy texture to everything, and period refs are diligently slapped on, particularly on the music side. There is a record sleeve in about half the scenes, and always turned to camera. Jung and Reich, too, get name-checked.
Pic’s most interesting idea is expressed through the mother: the conflict between liberal ’60s ideals and the more prosaic business of keeping a family together. Forque does a good job, veering from laughter to tears with a single turn of the head as she uncertainly hands out advice while learning to live without a man and rekindle her theatrical ambitions. By the end, the sheer force of Iborra’s nostalgia almost convinces that those hedonistic years may actually have been as fun as they are supposed to have been.