Review: ‘Spanish Fly’

Actress-filmmaker Daphna Kastner's "Spanish Fly" marks a step backward from her debut romantic comedy,"French Exit." The tale of a woman researching a book on male machismo in Spain is a tad too sincere and tinged with forced drama to play in the big leagues. Pic has limited theatrical prospects prior to finding its small-screen niche.

Actress-filmmaker Daphna Kastner’s “Spanish Fly” marks a step backward from her debut romantic comedy,”French Exit.” The tale of a woman researching a book on male machismo in Spain is a tad too sincere and tinged with forced drama to play in the big leagues. Pic has limited theatrical prospects prior to finding its small-screen niche.

Zoe (Kastner) is in the midst of interviewing local men in Madrid as the picture opens. A piece she did for Vanity Fair has evolved into a book, and her anxious behavior suggests the original work had more style than substance. It doesn’t help that she’s a technical klutz, seemingly unable even to operate a tape recorder. One can only say that her hysterical edge complements the broad posturing of her subjects.

Only Antonio (Toni Canto) seems at all interested in giving her the straight goods. But they don’t jibe with her thesis, and the possibility of a romantic liaison is shoved to the side when Zoe encounters Carl (Martin Donovan), a former prof who’s operating an English-language bookstore in the Spanish capital.

While we learn little about machismo, there’s at least some development of Zoe’s personal history. The impression that she has a tendency to pick the “wrong” men is more than confirmed by her relationship with Carl and the arrival of former beau John (Danny Huston). We also glean from phone calls with her unseen mother (voiced by Mary McDonnell) that she has had troubled relationships with both her parents.

Kastner’s script segues inelegantly from overstated comedy to overplayed drama as the main character painfully approaches self-realization. Missing in the process is the step that finally brings her together with Antonio. As romantic comedies go, “Spanish Fly” is singularly lacking in both departments.

Director-writer-thesp Kastner’s mannered acting style is better suited to supporting roles and contrasts poorly with the more natural cinematic grace and charisma of Canto, Donovan and some deft cameos from the likes of Marianne Sagebrecht and Maria de Medeiros.

Kastner is only slightly more assured behind the camera, although many of her sequences feel as stiff and contrived as her script.

Spanish Fly

Production

A Miramax release of a Juan Alexander production for Portman Films. Produced by Alexander. Co-producers, Nella Banfi, Cat Villiers. Directed, written by Daphna Kastner.

Crew

Camera (color), Arnaldo Catinari; editor , Caroline Biggerstaff; music, Mario de Benito; production designer, Alain Bainee; costume designer, Jose Maria de Cossio; sound (Dolby), Paul Carr; associate producers, Javiar Orce, Stefan Schmitz; casting, Joseph Middleton, Sara Bilbatua. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 15, 1998. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Zoe - Daphna Kastner
Antonio Molina - Toni Canto
Carl Livingston - Martin Donovan
John - Danny Huston
Rosa - Marianne Sagebrecht
Julio - Antonio Castro
Rossy - Maria de Medeiros
Professor Brittel - Vernon Dobtcheff
Julia - Cat Villiers
Voice of Zoe's Mother - Mary McDonnell
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