A tender-hearted road movie set in end-of-dictatorship Spain and built around a troubled father-son relationship, Emilio Martinez-Lazaro’s “Backroads” is solidly played but ultimately unsatisfying. A plethora of local nostalgia refs, an occasionally gorgonzolan plot and dated style mean pic will probably satisfy home auds but is unlikely to travel as far as the Citroen in which the pair make their existential journey.
It’s 1974, and the Franco dictatorship is coming to an end. Lozano (Antonio Resines, from “The Lucky Star”) is a down-on-his-luck, boozy salesman traveling the coast of Spain with teenage son Felipe (Fernando Ramallo). They are continually on the move, and Felipe, unlike his ever-optimistic father, is a rebel who regularly gets expelled from high school and is fascinated by Patty Hearst.
First port of call is with glamorous would-be singer Estrella (a larger-than-life Miriam Diaz Aroca). Felipe lies in the next room at nights while Estrella and his father make love. They next run into cheap and cheerful village girl Paquita (Maribel Verdu), whom Lozano promptly seduces and with whom Felipe later has a sexual initiation. Father and son finally end up in a U.S. army base — Lozano selling cheap imported cars, Felipe falling in love with a black girl, Miranda (Tania Adam) — where there’s a dramatic revelation about Lozano’s past.
Pic rambles happily along without overstaying its welcome. But the timing in the final reel goes drastically wrong, and the upbeat ending feels forced and over-hasty. Still, central perfs are fine, and interest rarely flags in the delicately balanced father-son relationship.
On the tech side, there are two bad artistic decisions. In its attempt to create a ’70s flavor, Roque Banos’ score ends up sounding merely outdated; also, Javier Salmones’ bleached-out lensing means we might just as well be watching a film that was made in 1974 rather than about it.