Review: ‘Tortilla and Cinema’

Exploiting the proposition that the crew of no-budget filmdom invariably comes with a compelling menagerie of neuroses, "Tortilla and Cinema" is a shaky, self-conscious comedy about the act of making movies. While covering much of the same ground as "Living in Oblivion," Gallic helmer-scripter Martin Provost's offbeat pic makes a misguided stab at conveying a larger message about how film and life are inseparable. Unredeemable cinephiles may take to this curio, as may Euro culture-cable outlets, and fest play is a sure bet. Pic centers on motormouth Benjamin Ballon (Marc Duret), a budding auteur who is attempting to make his first movie. Encouraged and mothered by his star, Carmen Maura (playing herself), the overwrought Ballon writes and rewrites his script even as cast and crew are assembled in his girlfriend's apartment to begin shooting.

Maura’s leading man, Michel Aumont (playing himself), is hours late in turning up for the shoot, bringing the already flaky crew perilously close to psychological meltdown. Maura, as a down-to-earth Spaniard muttering about French emotional constipation, allays their panic by telling them how she helped Ballon sell his script in the first place.

Pic alternates between Maura’s regal poise on the set and a series of wildly uneven flashbacks about Ballon’s years in pre-production limbo. The funniest by far concern a series of interviews he went through with prospective producers, each more philistine than the last. The least believable flashbacks deal with Ballon’s suicidal despair over not getting his project off the ground. Falling somewhere in between are the sequences showing Maura’s habit of bringing a home-made tortilla to business meetings to get her way.

Although Provost, a novelist and playwright, shows flair in quickly sketching character, especially with the hysteria-laden members of the crew, too often we get lost in the meanders of what must be private jokes and Parisian score-settling.

Fortunately, the perfs are engaging. Duret, as the insecure director, faithfully reproduces the tendency of young Parisian film fauna to combine unstoppable fluency with insufferable self-absorption. Maura, as a smiling ambassador from a less neurotic society, seems to have a great time playing herself. And Marina Tome’s producer is a truly funny emotional basket case in love with her good-looking son. But whenever Maura, Duret or Tome is out of the action, pic veers dangerously close to caricature.

Tech credits are adequate, given the low budget and an ill-conceived commitment to making the amateurish goings-on look equally hasty and amateurish onscreen.

Tortilla and Cinema

French - Spanish

Production

A Caro-Line release (in France) of an Odessa/Cinesinema production, in association with Canal Plus. (International sales: Canal Plus, Paris.) Produced by Chantal Perrin, Yannick Bernard, Ramon Pilaces. Executive producer, Karima Canama. Directed, written by Martin Provost.

Crew

Camera (color), Eric Guichard; editor, Monica Coleman; music, Bruno Bertoli; production design, Jacomo Macchi, Katja Kosenina; costume design, Stephane Rollot; sound, Marc Nouyrigat; assistant director, Olivier Ramon. Reviewed at Club de L'Etoile screening room, Paris, April 17, 1997. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Carmen Maura ..... Herself Benjamin Ballon ..... Marc Duret Christine ..... Marina Tome Michel Aumont ..... Himself Leila ..... Marianne Groves
With: Mouss Diouff, Jose Otero, Petronille de St. Rapt, Nathalie Boileau, Martine Guillaud, Alain Lifman, Isabelle Pottier, Mathieu Perrin, Eric Leroux.
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