A witty, idiosyncratic take on the trials and tribulations of indie moviemaking, Fernando Merinero's directorial debut, "Soul Ache," proves that a good script and talented friends can compensate for a pea-size budget. Lively perfs, an appropriately fly-on-the-wall lensing style and healthy skepticism about sticking to the rule book give pic an engaging freshness. Its quirkiness and subject matter make it ideal fest viewing, with offshore arthouse slots a possibility, given the right push.

A witty, idiosyncratic take on the trials and tribulations of indie moviemaking, Fernando Merinero’s directorial debut, “Soul Ache,” proves that a good script and talented friends can compensate for a pea-size budget. Lively perfs, an appropriately fly-on-the-wall lensing style and healthy skepticism about sticking to the rule book give pic an engaging freshness. Its quirkiness and subject matter make it ideal fest viewing, with offshore arthouse slots a possibility, given the right push.

Helmer Aitor (Martxelo Rubio) is casting for his first movie, “Soul Ache,” the story of a lonely stockbroker who has problems with women. He is accompanied by hard-pushed assistant Bruno (Bruno Buzzi) and producer Cesar (charismatic Juan Potau), an aging, psychotic-looking skinhead. It quickly becomes clear that Aitor is using the film’s auditions as an excuse to make out with as many girls as possible.

These include the outrageous-mouthed Nathalie (Nathalie Sesena), one of a couple of higher-profile thesps. (The 30 or so others get a few seconds of screen time before disappearing.) The script is entirely convincing about their overblown dreams of glamour: One painful scene has Aitor auditioning g.f. Carla (Angelica Reverte) before turning her down. Aitor’s dream is to get real-life actress Myriam Mezieres involved in his project.

The movie cannily plays with this basic premise without threatening to develop into a well-made plot. Rubio carries the pic with a winsome combination of cynicism and post-adolescent confusion, spending most of his time being shouted at: Large stretches of pic look improvised, which is a tribute to the editing skills of Fernando Pardo. Dialogue is often spot-on naturalistic and perfs vibrant, as might be expected when most of the cast seem to be playing themselves.

Though there are a couple of in-jokes too many about the Spanish film industry, the script generally resists the obvious. But with the arrival of Mezieres, matters slow down considerably and pretentiousness enters. It is obvious that not only Aitor but also Merinero and his two cameramen have been completely seduced by the sultry Mezieres and her reputation. Instead of the rapid rhythm of the first hour, the tempo slows for overlong close-ups of the actress, as she brilliantly recites to an enraptured Aitor the same lines that Carla earlier made a mess of, thereby bringing his “soul ache” to a contrived conclusion.

Soul Ache

(COMEDY -- SPANISH-FRENCH-ITALIAN)

Production

An El Mecanismo Encantado (Spain)/Artcam Intl. (France)/Axelotil Films (Italy) production. (International sales: KWA, Madrid.) Executive producer, Vicente Perez. Directed, written by Fernando Merinero.

Crew

Camera (color), Teo Delgado, Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Fernando Pardo; music, Hector Aguero; art director, Alfonso Berridi; sound (Dolby), Jean Paul Bernard. Reviewed on videocassette, Madrid, June 21, 1999. (In Estepona Spanish Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Aitor ..... Martxelo Rubio Bruno ..... Bruno Buzzi Cesar ..... Juan Potau Nathalie ..... Nathalie Sesena Carla ..... Angelica Reverte Myriam ..... Myriam Mezieres
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