His best film since “Shadows of a Battle” (1992), veteran Mario Camus’ “The Beach of the Greyhounds” is a straight-up revenge yarn transformed by fine scripting and grade-A perfs into a darkly intelligent, morally complex study of the effects of violence. Camus’ reputation is based on literary adaptations — most famously, Camilo Jose Cela’s “The Beehive” (1982) — but this time he’s worked from his own script and the result, despite the odd wobbly moment, is urgently contemporary, well-played fare. However, despite the presence of high-profile thesp Carmelo Gomez (“The Good Life”), pic has enjoyed only discreet B.O. locally since its early April release. In Spain, Camus is seen as belonging to a helming generation whose time has past.
Though well over two hours, pic doesn’t feel a minute too long. It’s structured in three numbered parts, each opening with a thought-provoking literary quote.
Timid Martin (Gomez) divides his time between caring for his aging mother and tracking down his brother, Pablo (Gustavo Salmeron), who vanished after killing a worker at a nuclear plant in an act of terrorism. While visiting Madrid, Martin is approached and seduced, much to his and our surprise, by Berta (Italian actress Claudia Gerini, dubbed). Slowly, Martin falls in love with her.
Much of the rest of pic is set in Denmark, where psychiatrist Dubbini (Argentinean thesp Miguel Angel Sola) lives, taking care of his mentally retarded daughter, who’s still in trauma after her mother’s execution in Argentina in 1981. Martin, still with Berta, has found out that Dubbini can lead him to Pablo, who lives with his g.f., Oria (Ingrid Rubio).
After Berta is arrested for a killing, part three explores the reactions of Martin and Dubbini, both of whom are obsessed with her. (A surfeit of dialogue and too little action make this the pic’s weakest section.)
Terrorism made Berta the woman she is and, although pic only contains two gunshots, the effects reach far into people’s private and emotional lives. All characters have been touched by terrorism — from Martin’s aging mother to Dubbini’s small daughter. But pic is morally all-embracing enough to recognize that even the violent can suffer from their violence, a message that is typical of the evenhanded compassion which Camus always injects into his best work.
Film manages to be both gripping and leisurely, allowing the thesps to fully inhabit their characters while telling the story in an unembellished, fluid way. Careful scripting and dialogue make potential implausibilities believable, such as Berta’s seduction of Martin and Dubbini, and the two men’s love for a killer.
Perfs are top-drawer, with Gomez just right as the emotionally clumsy Martin learning new and complex emotions, and Sola turning in an effective portrayal of battered dignity as Dubbini , a man who remains morally upright in the face of suffering.
Jazz-based score is sometimes intrusive and adds little to an essentially stark piece. Oddball title is a metaphorical reference that turns out to be pretty but pretentious.