A sharp-edged, sometimes affecting exploration of the fault line where professional and emotional lives meet, Gerardo Herrero’s intelligent and thoroughly contempo “The Archimedes Principle” reps this uneven helmer’s best pic to date. The initial frames look like any number of yuppie angst-fests, but an unusually crafted and perceptive script from novelist Belen Gopegui, underpinned by discreetly effective perfs, come together to generate a mature, quietly compelling drama. Fest play is guaranteed, and, though pic offers little that’s really new, discerning offshore auds could be seduced by its universally resonant theme.
The milieu, like that of helmer’s “My Friends’ Reasons,” is that of intelligent, articulate thirtysomething professionals. Fashion exec Sonia (Marta Belaustegui) has seen her intense working life under boss Nicolas (Manuel Moron) start to affect her marriage to architect Andres (Alberto Jimenez). Meanwhile, the marriage of Sonia’s freelancer buddy Rocio (Blanca Oteyza) to Mariano (Roberto Enriquez) is also under pressure, but from her frustration at the lack of professional opportunities open to her. To a degree, both women thus want what the other has.
Sonia does Rocio a favor by offering her a job in her company, which Rocio seizes with both hands, quickly moving up the company hierarchy. Soon Nicolas is offering her a sales job originally earmarked for Sonia. Something else that Rocio seizes with both hands, in this case in the back of a cab, is Andres.
Sonia’s professional life enters free fall with the “restructuring” of the company, and she seeks help by visiting a labor union where she meets long-suffering shop assistant Carmen (Vicky Pena). As Rocio’s rise continues, Sonia becomes more and more committed to the cause of working people like Carmen.
Herrero elicits first-class perfs from an array of second-rung Spanish thesps, with the underrated Belaustegui, a Herrero stalwart, a standout. The fact none of the characters is particularly sympathetic doesn’t minimize the perfs that are plausible and satisfyingly rounded across the board. Oteyza handles her transition from victim to villain with skill and sensitivity.
Politically, pic is even-handed, offering a detailed critique of the way business ruthlessly plays on insecurities to stifle entire lives, but also celebrating how work can provide meaning and purpose. The compact, femme-focused script is careful to remain faithful to the emotional truths it posits, meaning that characters sometimes escape their individuality and become representative.
Gopegui is a fine observer of telling detail — one scene has Rocio and Andres breaking off a kiss so they can both answer business calls on their cell phones. The dialogue is littered with effective soundbites: “The opposite of ‘personal’ is not ‘professional,'” a labor unionist rebukes Sonia, “it’s ‘collective.'”
The nicely enigmatic title is catchily expressed with the metaphorically meaningful phrase “in order to float you have to push,” though it’s not always so subtle: A motif involving oranges being squeezed dry, a la employees, is itself squeezed dry. The plotline suffers from over-symmetry after Sonia, too inevitably, falls for Mariano, but a nicely realized comic set piece in a traffic jam almost makes it worth it. The understated piano/violin score from Lucio Godoy also merits mention.