A typically eccentric dramedy from vet auteur Gonzalo Suarez that points up in none-too-subtle fashion the similarities between acting and politics, “Oviedo Express” is so over-the-top, it’s planes rather than trains that come to mind. With a bunch of fine Spanish actors overacting for all they’re worth and a thin plot that descends into pure farce in the final half-hour, pic still has an energy and a belief in itself that just about see it through. Local B.O. has been so-so, though “Express” could steam happily into fests.
A theater troupe arrives in the beautiful northern Spanish city of Oviedo to stage an adaptation of Leopoldo Alas’ 19th-century classic, “La Regenta.” The group includes arrogant egomaniac Benjamin Olmo (Carmelo Gomez), married to prima donna Mariola Mayo (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), and depressive alcoholic Alvaro Mesia (Jorge Sanz), who’s hopelessly in love with Mariola.
Ernesto de Villamarin (Alberto Jimenez) is the mayor of Oviedo, married to young doctoral student Emma (Barbara Goenaga). Emma’s mother, wacky widow Mina (Maribel Verdu), claims Emma’s father was an angel. (Indeed, pic features its very own narrator/angel, played by Tino Diaz.) Meanwhile, Ernesto is having an affair with journalist Barbara (Najwa Nimri), and when Benjamin falls for Emma, tragedy ensues.
Characters are mostly unbelievable, though director-writer Suarez’s point may be that they have come adrift in a no-man’s land between people and actors. The still point at the center of the chaos is Emma: Goenaga is superb as the innocent victim of others’ political and professional tyranny, and it’s through her performance that the film makes its best points about the cruelties of, and similarities between, acting and politics.
Shots of Oviedo, though attractive, appear to be there at the request of the local tourist board. (The city has a statue of Woody Allen, of which liberal use is made.) Pic is loosely based, like Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 “Fear,” on Stefan Zweig’s short story of that name.