A fine Spanish addition to the screwed-up salesman tradition descending from Arthur Miller and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Cold Call” is an engrossing, penetrating study of one man’s swift moral decline over the course of 36 hours. A compact, cleverly crafted and troubling item whose action takes place mostly behind the expressive features of a superb Antonio Dechent, pic beautifully evokes a generation of working men whose time has passed. Its force lies in its understated intensity, and its bleak conclusions merit further exposure at fests and offshore arthouses.
Recently divorced, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking Salva (Dechent) is a television salesman of the old school who has fallen on hard times, his position threatened by a sharp-looking, ruthless generation embodied by Alex (Sergio Caballero, resembling a younger Kevin Spacey.) Needing a big sale to recoup his reputation in the eyes of boss Toni (Jose Luis Garcia-Perez), Salva attends a trade fair in a swank hotel, seeking an interview with bigwig American distributor Battleworth (Nick Nolte).
Salva pays conference hostess Ines (Maria Valverde) to find out Battleworth’s room number, which she efficiently does, and then to translate for Salva. The relationship between Salva and Ines slowly and subtly deepens after he finds her crying alone in a room, building to an intense, beautifully played three-way showdown among Salva, Ines and Battleworth.
Dechent is as compelling as he is virtually omnipresent. His rough-hewn features and macho approach conceal deeply rooted insecurities about age, money, abandonment and his own masculinity, understandable in a labor market that tosses aside its fiftysomethings like bruised fruit.
Valverde, again the foil to an aging cynic as she was in David Trueba’s “Madrid, 1987,” is cleverly aware that Salva needs her more than she needs him. Nolte has little to do but be bearlike and mutter, but his star status within the pic is nicely echoed by Battleworth’s standing as the guy who’ll make or break Salva.
Thematically, “Cold Call” offers little to distinguish it from similar tales of salesmen left adrift by change. But it’s made gripping by a quiet believability that shuns showboating and renders the pic authentically disturbing at times, especially upon the arrival of the denouement.
One sequence uses classical string music as the backdrop to a scene of wheeling and dealing, and the soft-toned ambiance of the luxury hotel in which the pic is entirely set similarly reps a deceptively attractive background for the human tragedies taking place. One minor credibility flaw for non-Spanish auds, surprising in a pic that generally takes its details so seriously, comes in an exchange with a supposedly American client sporting a slightly Spanish accent.