Review: ‘Lovesickness’

A fine example of how local production-incentive laws can benefit talented young helmers, "Lovesickness" is a charming, bittersweet look at the vicissitudes of the heart, with broad cross-generational appeal.

A fine example of how local production-incentive laws can benefit talented young helmers, “Lovesickness” is a charming, bittersweet look at the vicissitudes of the heart, with broad cross-generational appeal. Co-directed by husband-and-wife team Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz and Mariem Perez Riera, pic follows three storylines, all illustrating a yearning for love sabotaged by common stubbornheadedness. One of the first films to receive funding under the Puerto Rico Film Commission’s new rules, “Lovesickness” displays an occasional first-film roughness, but that shouldn’t stop auds from embracing this genuinely winning feature.

Pic’s opening sets the tone while also offering contrast, with a cartoonish look at a couple (Ruiz himself and Yarani del Valle) arguing about inconsequentialities that obviously mask deeper issues. Deliberately helmed to feel more like a separate skit than a first chapter, seg prepares viewers for the playful shifts between humor and the love pangs to come.

A simple bathroom stop results in revelations when Macho (Norman Santiago) inadvertently clues in sister-in-law Lourdes (Teresa Hernandez) to an affair between her husband Ismael (Luis Guzman) and her cousin Tati (Edna Lee Figueroa). Lourdes drops confused son Ismaelito (Fernando Tarrazo) in front of his uncle’s place and hightails it to her mother’s, where her grandmother’s wake won’t prevent a major confrontation.

Nebbishy Miguel (Luis Gonzaga) has been silently obsessing about his love for bus driver Marta (Dolores Pedro) until one day he boards her bus and asks her to marry him. When Marta impatiently rejects his proposal, Miguel pulls a gun and takes the passengers hostage, waiting to get the answer he wants.

Pic’s greatest warmth is saved for the lovesickness of those in their twilight years. Elderly Flora (Silvia Brito) lives with her ex-husband Cirilo (Chavito Marrero) in a contented arrangement of convenience — they’re first seen out-slurping each other over bowls of soup. The status quo is shattered when her daughter (Jessica Delgado) dumps Flora’s first husband, the destitute Pellin (Miguel Angel Alvarez), at her door. Cirilo’s not very happy with this rival, especially as Flora is awakening to the memories of her first love.

The helmers juggle the three storylines with nary a dropped ball, keeping the characters apart yet using the textures to weave them into a whole. Everyone is handled with sympathy, alternating an ironic comic sense (the bus passengers’ involvement with Miguel’s personal life, for example) with an edge of hysteria that’s set against issues treated with anguish and respect.

Guzman may be the best-known of the thesps, but everyone works seamlessly together and there’s not a false performance in the ensemble. Best of all, however, is undoubtedly Brito, a gem of an actress who essays Flora’s late-blooming sexuality with terrific aplomb. It’s not simply that she gets standard laughs out of suggestive lines generally considered suitable for younger characters; she creates a three-dimensional, very real woman and then sashays her way into everyone’s hearts — ex-husbands and audiences included.

Editing at times could be more subtle, and the helmers’ decision to tie up certain strands feels anticlimactic, but these are minor, barely noticeable flaws. Certainly a little less camera movement would steady the proceedings (Ruiz and Perez both have backgrounds in TV commercials). Sound is aces, and music perfectly helps guide mood and flavor.

Lovesickness

Puerto Rico

Production

A Pajaritos Prenaos presentation of a Pajaritos Prenaos, Buena Onda production. (International sales: Lumina Films, London.) Produced by Luillo Ruiz. Executive producers, Benicio Del Toro, Donald K. Ranvaud, Robert Bevan, Cyril Megret. Directed by Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz. Co-director, editor, Mariem Perez Riera. Screenplay, Jorge Gonzalez, Ruiz.

Crew

Camera (color), P.J. Lopez; music, Omar Silva, Eduardo Alegria; production designer, Lizzie Cuello; costume designer, Suzanne Krim; sound (Dolby Digital), Antonio Betancourt; associate producer, Ilia Velez; casting, Patricia Alonso. Reviewed at Taormina Film Festival (Grande Cinema), June 19, 2007. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival -- Encounters.) Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Luis Guzman, Teresa Hernandez, Fernando Tarrazo, Norman Santiago, Edna Lee Figueroa, Laura Andujar, Irma Mendez, Luis Gonzaga, Dolores Pedro, Georgina Borri, Silvia Brito, Chavito Marrero, Miguel Angel Alvarez, Jessica Delgado, Yamil Collazo, Humberto Gonzalez, Vallie Marie Rivera, Marise Alvarez, Adrian Garcia, Alberto Zambrana, Pedro Juan Texidor, Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz, Yarani del Valle, Javier Ortiz.
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