“Torremolinos 73” is a pleasing, subdued take on one couple’s short-lived flirtation with the 70’s porn industry toward the end of the Franco regime, when cinema sex in Spain was still a cardinal sin. Pic, which walked off with best film, director, actor and actress awards at the recent Malaga fest, firmly establishes debuting Pablo Berger as a helmer to watch. Somewhat wacky tale, based on real events, is kept anchored in reality through attention to detail and by first-rate central perfs. First weekend B.O. at the end of April was solid, and further fest showings are a real option, though offshore auds may need a little more social context to make full sense of things.
Balding, mustachioed Alfredo Lopez (Javier Camara, playing a timid taboo-breaker not dissimilar from his role in “Talk to Her”) is a struggling encyclopedia salesman whose wife, hairdresser Carmen (Candela Pena) is desperate for a child. Lopez’s publisher boss, Don Carlos (Juan Diego), suggests the future lies in an “audiovisual encyclopedia of human reproduction” he’s heard about in Scandinavia, and Alfredo and Carmen are invited, in the interests of science, to shoot the first installment.
Don Carlos arranges a hotel meeting at which Danish porn director Dennis (Thomas Bo Larson) attends — he claims to have worked with Ingmar Bergman. Other employees of Don Carlos leave the hotel in disgust. However, Alfredo, Carmen and Juan Luis (Fernando Tejero) remain, and the script milks some non-too-subtle but enjoyable comedy from the couple’s first, hesitant Super-8 fumblings, despite Alfredo’s initial resistance (“I won’t let my wife show her parts, not even for the Pope”).
The money, and being recognized by a Scandinavian porn buff in a supermarket, rep a kind of success for the couple, but they find themselves drifting apart. As Carmen grows more obsessed with having a baby, Alfredo starts wanting to be the new Bergman, and writes a script, “Torremolinos 73.” Pic maintains interest in both strands, with the script, and Pena’s perf, making plausible the improbable notion a working-class wife in Franco’s Spain would get involved in shooting porn.
Camara makes the blinking, quietly-spoken Alfredo a perfectly conceived character, particularly in his self-deceiving belief his movies are Bergmanesque. Other perfs are up to scratch. The relationship between Carmen and Alfredo comes across well, her affection for him decreasing as it becomes clear he cannot provide the child she wants.
Only quibbles with the generally proficient script are that some of the musical transition sequences are overlong and that the occasional opportunity to maximize dramatic and emotional potential is missed — as if helmer Berger’s fear of lapsing into the poor taste the material invites has been a repressive influence.
Visuals lovingly recreate a long-lost world of polyester, tank tops, flowered wallpaper and far-fetched hairstyles, and the washed-out colors cleverly replicate what TV screenings of period pics look like 30 years on. Bouncy music from Mastretta also captures period feel, but sequences featuring lurid Spanish pop tunes work best. For a film about porn, pic is about as visually discreet as it’s possible to be, though there are brief moments of full-frontal nudity.