Having investigated unemployment (“Mondays in the Sun”) and prostitution (“Princesas”) in his past two films, Fernando Leon de Aranoa tackles immigration in the thoughtful but severely overstretched “Amador.” Blending black comedy, lyricism and social critique into a well-intentioned if diffuse slice of urban poetry that can’t decide whether it wants us to laugh, cry or just feel guilty, pic reps the first time the helmer has put style before substance. Aranoa’s reputation could bring restricted offshore arthouse play, but otherwise, prospects are limited for a project that’s not up to his best.
Bolivian Marcela (Peruvian thesp Solier) lives in the outskirts of Madrid with her b.f., Nelson (Pietro Sibille), who ekes out a precarious living stealing and selling flowers. Unbeknownst to Nelson, Marcela is pregnant. When the refrigerator where they store the flowers breaks down, cash-strapped Marcela accepts a job from Yolanda (Sonia Almarcha) taking care of her bedridden father, Amador (Celso Bugallo), a good-hearted curmudgeon and jigsaw fan.
The relationship between this odd couple is at first awkward, but softens into a quiet complicity. Comedy is generated by Puri (Fanny de Castro), Amador’s chirpy, middle-aged Andalusian neighbor, who visits him on Thursdays to provide manual relief.
Marcela’s private hell grows even darker when, after coming across Nelson with another woman, she returns home to find that Amador has died, holding the last piece of his jigsaw in his hand. Frightened of losing her income, Marcela decides to make it look as if he’s still alive.
Successfully balancing tragedy and farce, the script is well crafted at the level of its ideas, working through multiple criticisms of society while raising questions about the deep impact of politics on individuals at the bottom of the social pile.
However, atypically for Aranoa, too much is implausible here. A dead body in sweltering summertime Madrid would hardly remain in the perfect state the script would have us believe (magical explanations for Amador’s miraculous preservation are distantly hinted at, but not worked through). Meanwhile, Marcela’s almost total isolation from others, which allows the deception to be maintained, is never explained. Elsewhere, the pic’s use of puzzle and flower symbolism mostly feels stagy.
The film’s longueurs leave one nostalgic for the well-captured dialogue that distinguishes the helmer’s earlier work. Long stretches are spent registering the perpetually fearful, withdrawn Marcela’s understated reaction to the latest piece of bad news, though without opening her up to us. Although thesp Solier proved in “The Milk of Sorrow” that she can turn a character’s passivity into something interesting, here the camera lingers a bit too long. The reliable Bugallo succeeds in casting Amador’s long shadow over pic’s second half, when he’s just a shape under a sheet.
Apart from the occasional foray out into the bright Madrid sunshine, the action basically shuttles between Amador’s home and Marcela’s, and even skilled lenser Ramiro Civita is unable to keep up the visual interest over almost two hours. Music is used sparingly and to good effect.