de Arista ….. Fernando Fernan-Gomez
Pio Coronado ….. Rafael Alonso
Richmond ….. Cayetana Guillen-Cuervo
Senen ….. Agustin Gonzalez
Doli ….. Cristina Cruz
Neli ….. Alicia Rozas
The recent choice of “The Grandfather” as Spain’s submission for the foreign-language-film Oscar competiton sees director Jose Luis Garci listed for the fifth time (he won in 1983 with “To Live Again”). A gracefully told moral fable about an aristocrat fallen on hard times and anxious to regain some dignity, pic is dominated by the towering presence of vet actor Fernando Fernan-Gomez. It is typically praiseworthy Garci in its earnestness, intensity and intelligence, but its defiant refusal to bow even slightly to the dictates of film fashion could limit its B.O. options. Pic was shot with serialization on local TV in mind.
Set amongst the sumptuous green landscapes of northern Spain in the late 19th century, when the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie were exchanging power places, story finds Rodrigo de Arista (Fernan-Gomez) returning to the town of his birth to find out which of his two young granddaughters, Doli (Cristina Cruz) or Neli (Alicia Rozas), is his true heir. One of them is the result of an affair between his upwardly mobile daughter-in-law, Lucrecia (Cayetana Guillen-Cuervo), and a French painter.
Relations between Rodrigo and Lucrecia are strained, but he becomes close friends with Pio Coronado (Rafael Alonso), the gloomy teacher of the two girls. Irritated by the threat Rodrigo represents to her reputation, Lucrecia orders slimy social climber Senen (Agustin Gonzalez) to have him confined to a monastery. Rodrigo escapes and returns to the town with renewed determination.
At nearly 2 1/2 hours, pic is hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff. The project stands or falls on its dialogue, characterization and atmospherics, and all are excellent, though the highly literary speechifying, which is drawn from a 19th century Spanish novel, starts to pall after a while. Still, certain sequences are memorable: the first encounter between Rodrigo and Lucrecia, with passion and diplomacy, love and honor excitingly facing off, and the scenes between Rodrigo and Pio, full of human warmth and tender humor.
Fernan-Gomez manages to be terrifying and pathetic in a demanding role — his sheer presence occasionally elevates the picture from melodrama to genuine tragedy. Alonso’s performance as a man obsessed with death is lent an extra dimension by thesp’s recent demiseath. As Lucrecia, young actress Guillen-Cuervo , in her first costumer, occasionally comes over a little flat.
Raul Perez Cubero’s lensing suffuses interiors with sepia hues which, while appropriate, reinforce the slightly fusty air that surrounds the project. The children’s voices are sloppily dubbed, but otherwise tech credits are fine.