The First Night of My Life” is an assured, skillfully constructed debut that tickles the pleasure buds without forgetting it has a social point to make. A lively script, witty dialogue and deft playing from a generally young cast give pic plenty of indie/cult appeal for home auds, but whether its plethora of local refs can take it to theatrical release outside Spain and France is doubtful.
Another in the series of films commissioned by France’s Haut & Court and set at the end of the millennium, pic consists of interlinked vignettes set on New Year’s Eve 1999, but far away from any celebratory action. Social worker Manuel (Juanjo Martinez) and pregnant Paloma (Leonor Watling) are a young married couple who set out for a party, unaware that Paloma’s nouveau riche father (a superbly world-weary Emilio Gutierrez Caba) is driving over to their apartment to give them a lift. Arriving after the couple have left, the father has his parked car stolen by a fat simpleton, Litri (Roberto Hernandez), and his street-smart but golden-hearted buddy Johny (Carlos Fuentes), who wants to impress his long-suffering g.f., Jasmina (Mariola Fuentes), with a set of expensive wheels.
Meanwhile, Jasmina, who is waiting at a nearby phone booth for Johny, happens to meet Paloma’s father, and these two characters from different worlds cautiously get to know each other. Story takes a different turn when Johny rolls up in the father’s car.
Pic’s locations include the highways on Madrid’s outskirts, an all-night gas station — where two female workers, Adri (Adriana Ozores) and Toni (Antonia San Juan), entertain romantic daydreams about passing customers — and a shanty area where Johny’s family lives. Throughout the movie, characters regroup and reform, with social barriers finally being broken down in an ironic (though over-sentimental) nod to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the healing powers of the festive season.
Without grandstanding, script subtly makes its points on a variety of subjects, from the marginalization of the poor and the power of the imagination as a kind of defense against it, to nouveau riche snobbishness. Humor is, at times, funereal.
Hyper-realistic dialogue, which takes its cue from mid-period Almodovar, is witty regarding the details of contemporary Spanish life, and strongly rooted in characters for whom the script rapidly establishes aud affection. A French-style , accordion-based soundtrack provides delicate counterpointing, and pic is free of the frenzied pacing that too many young Spanish helmers mistake for comedy.