A highly attractive cast lives la vida Lorca in Paula Ortiz's polished but over-soaped adaptation of "Blood Wedding."
“The Bride” may be a pedestrian choice of title for a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ever-crimson play “Blood Wedding,” but perhaps the change is fitting: Paula Ortiz’s decorative but inessential pic sees the famed source material losing a lot of blood in more ways than one. Instead, pure, perfumed soap pumps through the veins of this placeless period love triangle, set over the eventful wedding day of the eponymous, romantically conflicted heroine. Retaining the melodrama of Lorca’s words, but downplaying their ornate poetry and symbolic subtext, Ortiz’s film nonetheless takes (and gives) a certain amount of pleasure in placing unfeasibly beautiful people in telenovela-style poses of emotional distress. This cranked-up, borderline camp approach should yield commercial rewards in Latin territories, even as it proves Spain’s most celebrated writer a Lorca unto himself.
Ortiz, best known for her 2011 feature, “Chrysalis,” isn’t the first filmmaker to take a liberal stab — so to speak — at “Blood Wedding.” Carlos Saura’s flamenco-infused 1981 version set the bar high for both inventive stylization and sheer dramatic gusto. “The Bride” arguably tops it for broad accessibility and brute volume, but not much else. Newcomers to Lorca’s 1932 classic could be forgiven for wondering why it’s so greatly revered, given the emphasis here on its rather simple narrative over its existential undertow. Set on an atmospherically desolate, unidentified slice of gingerbread desert (courtesy of central Turkey), with an equally unspecific mid-20th-century milieu, the film’s unapologetically torrid tale of woe doesn’t speak to any clear cultural moment or movement. Whether that expands its appeal or undermines its very purpose is open to question.
Either way, the storytelling will seem lustily familiar even to Lorca neophytes, despite some fiddly, flashback-riddled structuring. The unnamed Bride (Inma Cuesta) is due to marry a respectable groom (Asier Etxeandia) whom she has known since childhood, though her true desires lie with the rakish Leonardo (Alex Garcia), a mutual friend from the couple’s early years. The feeling is mutual, though Leonardo already has a winsome wife (Leticia Dolera) and child of his own. Naturally, the star-crossed lovers do what any flaming-loined fictional pair would do in this heightened situation: They elope to another, equally scorched, corner of this golden wasteland, with the Bride’s newly acquired husband in hot (and hot-headed) pursuit.
The fallout — unnecessarily previewed in a rumbling Sturm und Drang introduction — is as violently anguished as might be expected. However, amid the high-pitched battle of hearts, complete with surreal flashes of apparent psychosis on the Bride’s part, Lorca’s subtler inquiry into gender and generational conflict goes mostly unheard. The three central performers serve the archetypal nature of their roles in physically compelling, never-knowingly-underwrought fashion, though none evinces a particular affinity for Lorca’s lyrical language. Outclassing them all is Luisa Gavasa, who plays the Bride’s vindictive mother-in-law in a kind of Mediterranean Agnes Moorehead mode, delivering her lines with a full vial of venom.
Ortiz’s most gracious nod to Lorca’s legacy may be the anachronistic inclusion of the Leonard Cohen song “Take This Waltz” — the lyrics of which were adapted from verses in the author’s 1930 volume “A Poet in New York” — at an especially pained juncture. It’s perhaps the helmer’s gutsiest creative gesture, though unlikely to divorce the song from its application in Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” in the minds of many viewers.
On the technical front, “The Bride” may be attractive to a fault: Miguel Angel Amoedo’s sherry-marinated widescreen lensing is immaculately polished, though the magazine-shoot quality of the images isn’t always conducive to emotional engagement. The displaced story’s eerie, Mars-on-Earth location (complete with some distinctly phallic boulders) is an asset throughout, as is Arantxa Ezquerro’s inspired, quasi-contemporary costume design. Lorca may have had other human tragedies in mind, but one fervently hopes that no blood is spilt on the groom’s exquisitely tailored wedding suit.