An engaging homage to veteran thesp Fernando Fernan-Gomez, who has helped shape Spanish film history (but who, by his own account, is starting to find it hard to remember his lines), “Pepe Guindo” attaches first-class acting to a second-class script. Daringly, pic strips cinema back to its theatrical roots — and, with Fernan-Gomez in top form, it just about delivers. One day the film may be seen as a semi-docu record of a terrific actor, now 78, acting terrifically. But for now, offshore prospects look slight, with fest runs and Latin American sales its likeliest venues.
Matters are introduced in broad brushstrokes as aging actor Don Agustin (Fernan-Gomez), 65, is driven to a Madrid theater for the opening night of his one-man show, “Pepe Guindo,” named after a jazz musician. As he moves stageward, we meet a series of down-at-heel theatrical types, including Don Agustin’s dresser (ever-girly Veronica Forque), the band (Antonio Resines, Jorge Sanz, Yael Barnatan), a hysterical director (Jose Maria Pau) and anxious writer (Pepon Nieto). As a troubled lighting man, only Enrique San Francisco brings any individuality to his cameo.
Monologue opens with Guindo receiving a call from a producer interested in shooting his life story. This provokes him into freewheeling memories — of his parents, travels, loves, successes and frustrations — and gives Fernan-Gomez the chance to deliver an acting master class which, after more than 60 years and some 150 films, is worth the ticket price alone.
Visually, things are kept moving by intelligent lensing angles. Unfortunately , the script splices in reactions from the rest of the cast to the monologue — Forque inanely muttering “That’s true,” and an underused Resines smiling in rueful acknowledgment of Guindo’s hard-learned home truths — which temporarily distances the viewer from Fernan-Gomez’s perf.
Though the monologue itself has moments of great humor and insight, it often falls back on the cliches of a performer’s life and works best in the dramatic present, when Guindo is talking by phone to his thoughtless daughter and granddaughter. But the power of the central perf is stunning in its ease and control, with Fernan-Gomez pushing his bass growl and rubbery features to the limits as a lonely old man clinging to his dignity whilst remaining tragically aware of his foolishness. In the final minutes, it’s not only moving but genuinely disturbing.
Given that this is supposed to be theater, more use could have been made of lighting, and no legit producer worth his salt would give the band of musicians so little to do, or so badly: Hand-to-instrument synchronization is appalling.