A daring, refreshingly fleshy take on society's obsession with appearances.

A daring, refreshingly fleshy take on society’s obsession with appearances, as seen through a collection of tubbies, “Gordos” juggles characters, genres and ideas but suffers from wanting to have its cake and eat it. Much of the success of Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s debut, “DarkBlueAlmostBlack,” was due to the tight control he exercised over his distinctive, offbeat worldview; this time, the general air of excess leaves his engrossing but self-indulgent pic looking in need of a slim-down itself. Nevertheless, it retains enough distinctive style and wit for offshore auds to want a bite.

Protags, most of whom are eminently cuddly, come together for a therapy session run by skinny Abel (Roberto Enriquez), who’s married to pregnant Paula (Veronica Sanchez). The group also includes camp thesp Enrique (Antonio de la Torre), a TV presenter for a weight-loss product who has broken his contract by becoming obese; overweight, sexually frustrated Sofia (Leticia Herrero), wife of intensely religious, Bible-quoting Alex (Raul Arevalo); businesswoman Leonor, whose weight has gone up while her b.f. has been away; and middle-aged forensic scientist Andres (Fernando Albizu), who’s married to Beatriz (Tete Delgado), with two problem kids, Luis (Adam Jezierski) and Nuria (Marta Martin).

The script shuttles rapidly among the various stories. Enrique accidentally kills his former business partner and ends up dating the man’s wife, Pilar (Pilar Castro). Sofia and Alex become sex addicts, and Sofia loses weight, as well as much of her appeal to Alex. Paula starts to hate her own body, and Abel, the ostensible therapist, realizes he despises obesity — a major problem, considering Paula’s condition.

The script appears to be driven by its ideas rather than its characters, and though the concept of filling a film with the kinds of rounded shapes too rarely seen onscreen is just fine, Arevalo seems uncertain about where to take it beyond insisting, unnecessarily, that there are real human beings hidden beneath all that flesh.

What we get is a mix of satire (though often enjoyable, it fails in the Alex/Sofia strand, which dully points up the similarities between religion and food consumption); absurd comedy (the script seems to find it amusing that gay Enrique might be with Pilar); and even teen drama (skinny Luis starts to doubt that Andres and Beatriz really are his parents).

The fact that the characters often feel like ciphers, used to make a point about our culture’s obsession with appearance, keeps them at a distance, while the script’s knowing tone makes its humor clever but rarely laugh-out-loud.

Paula’s supportive relationship with Nuria does deliver some real tenderness, and the later scenes dealing with Andres’ family are emotionally searching. But finally, there are too many dramas taking place for any of them to truly engage viewer emotions.

Visuals are carefully crafted and often droll, and the intense coloring adds to the general air of artificiality. Interest is generated less by what’s happening than by David Pinillos and Nacho Ruiz Capillas’ canny, rapid-fire editing, which proves crucial to keeping the multiple plotlines in the air.

Pascal Gaigne’s often Gallicized, violin-based score adds to the air of ironic playfulness, as exemplified by a needless reference to “DarkBlueAlmostBlack.”

Tech credits are topnotch down to the last detail. The pic’s extended 10-month shooting sked was largely due to the cast’s controlled dieting, with the superb de la Torre, who stands out on the thesping front by creating an authentically tortured soul, upsizing by around 70 pounds. Title translates as “Fat People.”

Gordos

Spain

Production

An Alta Classics release of a Tesela/Filmanova Invest production with the participation of TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: Imagina International Sales, Madrid). Produced by Jose Antonio Felez, Anton Reixa. Directed, written by Daniel Sanchez Arevalo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Juan Carlos Gomez; editors, David Pinillos, Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music, Pascal Gaigne; art director, Curru Garabal; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos Faruolo. Reviewed at Alta Films screening room, Madrid, July 28, 2009. (In Venice Film Festival -- Venice Days.) Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Antonio de la Torre, Roberto Enriquez, Veronica Sanchez, Raul Arevalo, Leticia Herrero, Fernando Albizu, Maria Morales, Pilar Castro, Adam Jezierski, Marta Martin, Tete Delgado.
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