A dark family drama set in the bright, bleak landscapes of Spain’s Canary Islands, “The Island Inside” adds a new dimension of emotional complexity to the previously comic oeuvre of helming team Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso. Probing the attempts of a mother and three children to handle the legacy of a schizophrenic father, pic boasts uniformly fine perfs that find all the nuances in a meticulously worked-out script, but the lack of dramatic light and shade make for an unremittingly gray viewing experience. Despite having sunk at home on April release, “Island” deserves to re-emerge on the fest circuit.
After their aging, bedridden, diaper-wearing father, Juan (Celso Bugallo) falls from a window, creative-writing teacher Martin (Alberto San Juan) and sister Coral (Candela Pena) are reunited in the Canary Islands with their TV actress sibling Gracia (Cristina Marcos), who has flown in for the occasion.
Their French mother, Victoria (Geraldine Chaplin), pragmatic and protective, seems blind to the issues her damaged offspring are dealing with. Coral, tough-minded but perpetually on the verge of tears following a traumatic childhood event, cleans house for Sara (Emi Cazorla) and longs for something better with Sara’s policeman husband, Ivan (Antonio de la Torre), with whom she has dissatisfying kitchen sex.
A set of nervous tics on legs, Martin comes close to parody, and some grimly hilarious dialogue points up his inability to deal with real-world issues. Fancying one of his students, Claudia (Gara Mora), he heads straight to a travel agent and buys them two tickets to Paris without telling her.
Gracia is pregnant by fellow thesp Raul (Vicente Ayala) and determined to have the child, despite the advice of her doctor that, given her mental instability and family history, she should terminate. On-set sequences in which Gracia confuses fiction with reality smack strongly of Almodovar.
Much of the film is a stripped-back, occasionally toe-curling study of the trio’s humiliations: All three are living in fantasy worlds and will pay the emotional consequences. But on a deeper level, pic asks to what extent their family background is responsible for their tribulations.
Thesps are persuasive across the board, with Pena adding to a long list of roles as the feisty but broken female, Marcos coming across as someone teetering on the edge, and San Juan’s nervous pauses injecting things with dose of necessary black humor early on. Bugallo’s colossal screen presence enlarges a small role, but Chaplin’s Victoria lacks definition.
On the credibility front, pic is at its shakiest with the idea that either Marcos or Gracia, borderline psychotics both, could have gotten their jobs in the first place, let alone hold them down. One scene, featuring Gracia and some metaphorical tropical fish, could probably have been cut.
Visuals make the most of the local landscapes and lighting, though there’s little here to generate a tourist rush. The score is gentle orchestral fare, but much is made of chanteuse Francoise Hardy’s “Comment te dire adieu,” one of several nods to a campier cinematic world from which helmers now seem to have moved on.