Backstage tale of an all-male Shakespearean troupe shot through with envy, jealousy and unrequited love, “Valentin” mirrors its comic-tragic dilemmas in rehearsed scenes from the Bard’s works, ending with a fateful “Othello.” In his first solo effort, helmer Iborra (erstwhile co-director with Yolanda Serrano of “KmO” and “Amor de Hombre”), wields his theatrical metaphors with enthusiastic literalism all the more wearisome for being carefully updated (asides to the audience delivered from a toilet seat; love-starved jesters cruising the Internet). Venturing into Jacques Rivette territory, Iborra’s stabs at commedia dell’arte achieve only measures of stolid, well-meaning whimsy. Pic’s polished thesping and high production values are unlikely to translate into more than fest or cable slots.
Ricardo (Lluis Homar), the troupe’s fiftysomething visionary director/thespian, falls head over heels for fledgling new star Valentin (Inaki Font), a situation complicated by the fact Ricardo has hitherto been happily heterosexual (as, apparently, has Valentin). Unable to cope with this late-blooming discovery, Ricardo starts going off the deep end, encouraged greatly by Jaime (Armando Del Rio) as pic’s resident Iago, jealous and bitter now that all his female roles have been reassigned to Valentin.
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Meanwhile, the entire company lives together in a country house, presided over by wise housekeeper Maria (Lola Cardona), far less conventional than she appears. Though assistant director Lola (Elisa Matilla) yearns for Ricardo, and various cast members frazzle each others’ nerves, the players’ nightly dinnertime revelries are sparked by Valentin’s vivacity. There’s even a Shakespearean fool to comment on the action, speaking directly into the camera.
Apparently the troupe claims a limitless repertoire, as sampled by costumed snippets from a number of Shakespeare’s plays. But “Othello,” traditionally the play of choice for the congruence of on- and off-stage drama, from George Cukor’s tragic “A Double Life” to Andrew Bergman’s farcical “So Fine,” remains the key reference.
“Valentin” opens with the foreshadowing of tragedy (a shrouded corpse, Ricardo in handcuffs, the grieving cast serving as its own final audience). Yet in Iborra’s carefully dosed Shakespearean mix, high tragedy and low comedy cancel each other out.
Production values are excellent, particularly Porfirio Enriquez’ warmly intimate lensing.