An understated distaff drama about the fallout from the death of a billiard hall owner.

An understated distaff drama about the fallout from the death of a billiard hall owner, “Seven Billiards Tables” reinforces Gracia Querejeta’s reputation as a purveyor of finely crafted, somewhat earnest character-based dramas. Humor and lightness of touch have been added to the mix, but for a piece that deals explicitly with feelings, pic scores lower on the emotional register than some of Querejeta’s previous work. Up until the last couple of reels, pic is a solidly played and helmed item, full of old-fashioned virtues, but lacking the spark and distinctiveness that would taken Querejeta to a wider audience.

Angela (Maribel Verdu) and her young son Guille (Victor Valdivia) head back to her hometown to see her dying father, but he dies before they get there. They are met by Angela’s dad’s companion, ex-jailbird Charo (Blanca Portillo).

Angela’s father ran a billiards hall, and a billiards team, along with Tuerto (Enrique Villen) and Jacinto (the reliably splendid Ramon Barea).

Soon, Angela finds out that her former husband Fran (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) has been found guilty of fraud, and has disappeared.

Angela decides to stick around and revive the billiards hall and team. Most of pic’s gentle comedy comes from Tuerto, Jacinto and Jacinto’s nephew Fele (Raul Arevalo, a promising young talent).

The script juggles its sizeable cast and multiple stories skillfully. Pic is thick with picturesque, deftly-handled backstories aboutpeople trying to deal with old emotional wounds. Guille’s comment that adults tell kids never to lie, but then spend the whole time lying themselves, could serve as pic’s thesis statement.

But there are no real surprises, in either plot or treatment.  Angela’s backstory is the weakest, and is not explored until the pic’s last 20 minutes. Humor is hit-and-miss.

The real star of the show is Portillo, rapidly consolidating her rep as a fine character actor as she explores every cranny of her complex role. Other perfs are well up to scratch — Verdu in particular has become a guarantor of a pic’s quality, and doesn’t disappoint here. Child thesp Valdivia, the only sane voice in a world of adult hypocrisy, is superb, as is Jesus Castejon as a jeweler.

Chemistry between characters is fine and at times makes for stirring viewing.

Pascal Gaigne’s orchestral score is nicely sprightly, although at times a little overbearing.

Seven Billiards Tables

Spain

Production

A Universal Pictures release of an Elias Querejeta, Ensueno Films, Enrique Cerezo production with the participation of Antena 3, TeleMadrid, Canal Plus, Canal Sur, RTVV, TVG, ETB, TV Canaria. (International sales: Elias Querejeta, Madrid.) Executive producers, Elias Querejeta, Teddy Villalba, Gracia Querejeta.  Directed by Gracia Querejeta. Screenplay, Querejeta, David Planell.

Crew

Camera (color), Angel Iguacel; editor, Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music, Pascal Gaigne; art director, Llorenc Miquel; sound (Dolby Digital), Juan Marin, Polo Aledo, Jose Antonio Bermudez. Reviewed at Fotofilm, Madrid, Sept. 5, 2007. (In San Sebastian Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Maribel Verdu, Blanca Portillo, Victor Valdivia, Lorena Vindel, Jesus Castejon, Raul Arevalo, Enrique Villen, Ramon Barea, Amparo Baro, Jose Luis Garcia Perez.

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