As a straightforward melodrama about the midlife crises of a Seville society hostess, Pedro Olea’s “Beyond the Garden” works better than most examples of the genre. Pic has done excellent B.O. in its first few weeks at home, partly due to its being based on a novel by Antonio Gala (“Turkish Passion”), whose Spanish sales run into millions. Olea’s ambitious attempt to move the meller beyond the confines of a domestic setting makes the project interesting, if flawed. But pic is unlikely to do big offshore business.
Gala — most of whose readers are women — has a crafty eye for romance, and Olea has been commercially astute in deciding to emphasize this aspect of the story. Palmira (veteran Concha Velasco, here in a role in which histrionics are justified) is married to Willy (Fernando Guillen), a Seville ranch owner who is not fulfilling his marital duties. Her son is a sexually confused adolescent and her sister a lesbian, while her daughter, Helena (wide-eyed Ingrid Rubio, from Carlos Saura’s “Taxi”), is dating without Mom’s knowledge. This is a family on the verge of breakdown.
Absolutely everything goes wrong for poor Palmira. She sees Willy in a Madrid restaurant, having lunch with a pretty girl he’s picked up. Helena reveals she’s pregnant; the baby turns out to be a hemophiliac. Palmira’s son is killed in a motorcycle crash. And then his friend Alex (Miguel Hermoso) — a bisexual with whom Palmira herself has had a failed fling — reveals that her son was homosexual.
Throughout pic, Palmira — who never stops to ask whether she herself might be part of the reason for any of this — makes hesitant attempts to escape the drudgery by having dissatisfying affairs with Andalusian hardbodies. Her mind is also on her childhood lover, Bernardo (Giancarlo Giannini, full of lugubrious charm), who is working as a doctor in Rwanda.
Movie’s explosive last reel is set in a Rwandan refugee settlement — shot in Senegal — with Bernardo and Palmira on the verge of reconciliation and Palmira finally doing some good with her life. Helmer Olea captures the unimaginable human misery, and the final scene manages, against the odds, to be genuinely moving. But the impression that pic finally leaves is that the entire Rwandan tragedy is simply a backdrop for the menopausal problems of an Andalusian housewife — a way of helping her come to terms with herself. And there is something offensive in that.
The film picked up two acting nods at the recent Goya Awards — Rubio as new actress, and Mari Carrillo as supporting actress in the undemanding role of Bernardo’s mother. Tech credits are solid.