Sibling rivalry ripples down the years to often potent and tragic effect in "Rough Winds," a skillfully-handled but -- given its subject -- passionless drama that sees prolific, genre-swapping helmer Gerardo Herrero returning to a favorite theme of dangerous relationships, but keeping the complex plot moving leaves little room for stylistic flair.

Sibling rivalry ripples down the years to often potent and tragic effect in “Rough Winds,” a skillfully-handled but — given its subject — passionless drama that sees prolific, genre-swapping helmer Gerardo Herrero returning to a favorite theme of dangerous relationships, but keeping the complex plot moving leaves little room for stylistic flair. “Winds” takes a while to warm up and the central perf is unconvincing, but there is enough depth and craft to suggest the pic will blow into fests and offshore territories where Herrero’s work is familiar. Pic took top prize at the recent Malaga fest.

As kids, bookish, sullen Juan and Charo (Natalia Sanchez) are sweethearts, but Charo is stolen from him by older brother Dami. Years later, Dami (Roberto Enriquez) goes on to marry Charo (Pilar Castro), but the marriage is not a success, and Charo seeks solace in the arms of Juan (Jose Luis Garcia Perez). Charo’s death in a car crash, in the pic’s opening scene, brings the relationship to a sudden end.

In the present, Juan, now 40-ish, is living in a windswept village on Spain’s Atlantic coast with Alfonso (Andres Gertrudix), his and Dami’s mentally handicapped younger brother, and his niece, Tamara. His maid is a vivacious Andalusian type called Maribel (Cuca Escribano), who has a son by her former partner Panrico (Antonio Dechent). A relationship develops between Juan and Maribel, Panrico lurking dangerously in the background.

Maribel’s friend Sara (Carmen Elias) has little work to do other than look after Tamara and Alfonso while Juan and Maribel get it on. Juan coyly decides not to tell Sara about his past, setting up a startling revelation that will not come until the final minutes. Details of this tricky plotline, drawn from Almudena Grandes’ lengthy best-selling novel, emerge bit by bit, sometimes frustratingly slowly, as pic shuttles between its three time-frames, a little confusingly at first but always briskly and economically.

The standout perf comes from Escribano, who as over-the-top Maribel assumes the responsibility for the pic’s humor and much of its energy. Other perfs seem restricted or superfluous.

Juan, a man desperate to keep his demons from surfacing, is a peach of a role, but a bland Perez is only intermittently able to galvanize him; only the slowly developing sexual relationship between him and Maribel allows the character any detail.

The pale, sun-beaten towns and wind-swept beaches of the region offer plenty of scope for d.p. Alfredo Mayo, but the visuals too rarely move away from the characters; one lone scene showing an umbrella being blown away reps an instant of interest.

In tune with the rest of the project, Lucio Godoy’s orchestral score is proficient, but follows the rule-book.

Rough Winds

Spain

Production

An Alta Classics release (in Spain) of an Tornasol Films/Milu Films/Continental Producciones/Maestranza Films production with the participation of Canal Plus, TVE, TVG. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Pancho Casal, Antonio Perez. Executive producer, Mariela Besuievsky. Directed by Gerardo Herrero. Screenplay, Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, Alberto Macias, based on the novel by Almudena Grandes.

Crew

Camera (color), Alfredo Mayo; editors, Carmen Frias, Berta Frias; music, Lucio Godoy; art director, Jose Dominguez Del Olmo. Reviewed at Malaga Film Festival (Official Section), March 24, 2006. Running time: 117 MIN.

With

Jose Luis Garcia Perez, Cuca Escribano, Roberto Enriquez, Alberto Jimenez, Carmen Elias, Andres Gertrudix, Antonio Dechent, Pilar Castro.

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