A deceptively simple surface is stirred by troubled depths in writer-director Felipe Vega’s evocative tale of love and its duties, “Summer’s Clouds.” As light and solid as titanium, the script of this grown-up romancer fuses a leisurely thriller plotline onto a romantic comedy base to delicate effect, and the final product is a satisfyingly rounded and thought-provoking piece, gratifying both heart and head. Its multiple subtleties, however, mean “Clouds” is strictly arthouse fare for discerning auds, with offshore interest unlikely beyond the occasional Hispanic territory and fest circuit.
Morally upright Daniel (Robert Enriquez), a forensic anthropologist, his amateur painter wife, Ana (Natalia Millan), and young son, Manuel (Kevin Almodovar), have left Madrid for Spain’s Costa Brava, as they do each summer. There, store owner Marta (Irene Montala) introduces Ana to her antiquarian cousin, the amoral Robert (David Selvas), who immediately takes a fancy to Ana. When Marta says she’s long fancied Daniel, the manipulative Robert suggests he and Marta try to help each other achieve their goals.
Having become friends with Daniel and earned his trust, Robert engineers things so that one night he and Ana end up dancing together in his garden, observed by Marta and Daniel, also dancing. Neither Daniel nor Ana quite know how this has happened. Before too long, Robert is planting a kiss on the lips of the uncertain Ana and impressing her with his watercolor collection. Soon, they’re in a bedroom together — though what happens there is crucially left ambiguous.
What from Robert’s point of view has been a meaningless game ends up exerting tremendous pressure on Daniel and Ana’s marriage, forcing them to re-examine their responsibilities to one another. It also makes them realize that perhaps they’ve been living a lie.
Vega, a severely underrated helmer now on his fifth feature, originally wanted the movie to be made in France — and, superficially, the shadow of Gallic auteur Eric Rohmer looms large.
Though psychologically plausible, “Summer’s Clouds” is extremely understated, raising questions about the fragility of so-called “perfect” marriages, and about how easily people get used to living lives untrue to themselves. Overall, however, pic employs a wide range of tones, from laugh-out-loud comedy, mostly courtesy of Marta’s jealous boyfriend Tomas (Roger Casamajor), to intense drama.
Perfs, from a second-string but excellent cast, are nuanced, responding to each finely adjusted new emotion as it arises. Selvas, agreeably slimy as the wolfish-featured Robert, stands out. The non-judgmental script is equally compassionate to all the characters, treating none with irony, and it is here where the film’s charm and truth basically lie.
Alfonso Parra’s deliberately bleached-out lensing evokes the lazy rhythms of summer, when people change a little and barriers come down. The only quibbles are the occasional longueurs, particularly in lengthy swimming-pool chats about relationships between Daniel and Robert. Occasional dialogue is in Catalan.