A preposterous premise is skillfully crafted into enjoyable, stately romance in "Mad Love."

A preposterous premise is skillfully crafted into enjoyable, stately romance in “Mad Love,” in which an insecure woman and her too-secure shrink live out a second life in a painting in Madrid’s Prado Museum. The potential excesses are rife, and the pic is lighter fare than it purports to be, but its classically restrained treatment and a typically buttoned-down central perf from Eduard Fernandez keep it all rooted, perhaps excessively so. Though it looks terrific, “Mad Love” remains too rarefied for mainstream tastes, and may have trouble infatuating distribs.

Psychiatrist Enrique (Eduard Fernandez) returns to Spain from abroad. His wife, Irene (Cuca Escribano), seems keen to get back with him; his friend, Alfonso (Carlos Hipolito, an underrated talent at home), is seeing a Hungarian hooker, Eszter (Eva Pallares); and his sister, Susana (Marta Belaustegui), is having an affair with a married man.

So far, so many chattering-class insecurities. But these serve as just the background to the story of Enrique and neurotic Julia (Irene Visedo), an attendant at Madrid’s Prado Museum. Julia is convinced she and Enrique are the characters in a Flemish painting, and she has a designer redo a room in the house she shares with her grandmother, Ana (vet Marisa Paredes), to look like the painting.

Big themes about love as an illness are handled with dexterity and will have auds thoughtfully stroking their chins. Fernandez makes Enrique more credible than many tweed-jacketed cinema academics; Visedo is also convincing, playing Julia as (ironically) more emotionally fulfilled than many of the other characters, including Enrique himself. Hipolito, as Enrique’s friend, is superb as a man happy to be completely self-deceived, and generates all of the pic’s comedy.

Transitions from the present to the imagined past are handled with skill and deft camerawork. Scene after richly textured scene is carefully composed to look as though it’s hanging in a frame. Low-light interiors accurately rep the sealed-off mental world Julia inhabits.

In the last hour, as Enrique slowly resolves the psychological mystery of Julia, the pic becomes progressively duller, an aridly academic victory over the exciting freedoms of Julia’s troubled imagination. Clavichord-based score is sometimes lovely.

Mad Love

Spain

Production

A Nix Films, Angel Durandez, Nada Music, Quiereme, Iroko Films production, in association with TVC, RTVV. Produced by Angel Durandez, Harold Sanchez, Alvaro Zapata, Nuria Durandez, Beda Docampo Feijoo. Directed by Beda Docampo Feijoo. Screenplay, Feijoo, Gustavo Aprea, Cesar Gomez Copello.

Crew

Camera (color), Juanmi Azpiroz; editor, Irene Blecua; music, Juan Bardem; art director, Inigo Navarro; sound (Dolby Digital), Sergio Burmann. Reviewed at Malaga Film Festival (competing), April 22, 2009. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Eduard Fernandez, Irene Visedo, Marta Belaustegui, Marisa Paredes, Carlos Hipolito, Eva Pallares, Cuca Escribano.
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