Susanna Eva Santolaria Said Said Amel Suso Joan Dalmau Rosa Rosa Gamez
An intelligent, low-budget take on a hitherto unexplored Spanish theme, Antonio Chavarrias’ third pic, “Susanna,” is a stylish, defiantly non-glossy whodunit in which the real criminal is racism. Though too hard-hitting to brighten up mainstream avenues, its rare ability to touch the conscience while raising the heartbeat has pleased Spanish critics. Pic’s refusal to take advantage of the sensationalism implicit in its subject or to fall back on easy stereotypes make it one of the more substantial Spanish offerings of the new season.
Set largely in the bars and back alleys of contemporary Barcelona, the movie opens with Susanna’s bloodied body, a violent arrest and a flashback. Alex (Alex Casanovas, whose features are both streetwise and innocent) is a wine salesman engaged to long-suffering Rosa (Rosa Gamez).
One morning, a bar owner offers Alex — as collateral against a failed payment — sex with one of her waitresses, the skinny, confused, bleach-blond Susanna (Eva Santolaria), an 18-year-old femme fatale who’s in a drug-rehab program. The sex is brutal and passionate, and Alex likes it. He falls for Susanna.
Pic’s first 15 minutes establish an [7mamour fou[22;27m that can only lead to tragedy. Alex is sacked for fiddling funds and starts work in a bar run by friends, a range of well-drawn minor characters who include wily old crook Suso (Joan Dalmau). Slowly, Alex is sucked into shady dealings. Meanwhile, Susanna, keen to find a place in life, has become engaged to anxious-to-please Said (Said Amel), a Moroccan immigrant who lives with his family.
From this point, the narrative takes time out for some delicately worked, fascinating culture-conflict scenes, such as one in which an awkward Susanna is interviewed by Said’s family to determine her suitability. Pic’s commitment to presenting an authentic, unsentimental view of immigrant life almost doubles as an introduction to Islamic culture.
However, when Alex, mad with impotent jealousy, asks Suso to have Said killed , the stage is set for a three-way showdown among Alex, Susanna and the Moroccans, between romantic passion and cultural tradition.
Chavarrias times to perfection the explosion of the personal and cultural tensions that slowly have been brewing. His conclusion is a disquieting attack on the attitudes that allow social injustice to flourish.
Tech credits are solid, but the script is a little flabby around the middle, the result of trying to keep too many minor characters in view. Shot largely in dingy, urban interiors, pic wins no beauty prizes, and camerawork is occasionally caught off-balance between the desire for a noir feel and the need for realism.