Like every recent production out of Jose Luis Garci’s Nickel Odeon Dos, the noirish “Hotel Danubio” is an accomplished exercise in style that harks wistfully back to ’40s Hollywood, where every suitcase contained a corpse and the rain didn’t let up for a second. Repping a considerable improvement over vet writer-helmer Antonio Gimenez-Rico’s labored recent output, this enjoyably mannered, craftily plotted and beautifully produced pic should do well with its target audience of over-50s and diehard cinema buffs.
A remake of 1955’s groundbreaking “Red Fish” by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, film stars the perennially underrated Santiago Ramos as failed novelist Hugo. Hugo and chorus girl g.f. Ivon (Carmen Morales) arrive one night in the pouring rain at the Hotel Danubio on Spain’s northern coast. Although he is not seen, Hugo’s son, Carlos, apparently accompanied them to the hotel and that night Carlos falls from a cliff and dies.
Pic flashes back to Madrid several months before, and to the troubled relationship between Hugo and Ivon. Hugo tells her Carlos is wealthy, having inherited money from his aunt (Maria Asquerino), who excluded Hugo from her will. Ivon, whose ambition is to leave her job and marry money, starts to take an interest in Carlos.
The mystification builds up nicely, with Ivon poking around Carlos’ room and finding a photo of herself. Her feelings for this young man she’s never met — and whom the audience, crucially, never sees — are, it seems, reciprocal.
Hugo’s latest novel is rejected by his publisher as not being realistic enough. One evening, when Ivon goes secretly to Carlos’ house, she’s met there by a distraught Hugo, who tells her he never had a son and that he invented “Carlos” to prove to himself that he can create realistic characters. Whether Hugo is a cold-blooded killer or a sad fantasist remains open until the less-than-watertight conclusion, but pic’s atmospherics maintain interest until the final frame.
Pic aspires to be no more than good, old-fashioned intrigue, and generally succeeds, with the pace picking up over the final half-hour. Stylized look is gorgeous to behold, but is sometimes so extreme as to look as risible as it does in ’40s movies.
Ramos makes Hugo a discreet but satisfyingly complex mixture of failed lover, slimy charmer, con man and bohemian. Morales, plucked from teen TV, manages to make the go-getting Ivon surprisingly simpatico, while vet Jose Sazatornil does a nice comic turn as the hotel’s night porter. Plush period interiors come courtesy of onetime Oscar winner Gil Parrondo.