As fresh and frenetic as the times it portrays, Chus Gutierrez’s comedy “El Calentito” takes the old struggling rock band motif and gives it a context — the transition of Spain from dictatorship to democracy. Thankfully lacking the earnestness of many movies with the same theme, pic’s sheer exuberance carries it through its flaws. The period refs might baffle offshore auds, the air of noisy vulgarity wears thin, and the frankly dire music will appeal only if you were there, but as an upbeat homage to a long-gone era of limitless optimism, there’s enough happening to generate interest from fests.
Pic is set during the build-up to Spain’s failed military coup d’etat of February 1981, at the time of Madrid’s “movida,” a period of cultural rebellion that now makes many Spanish fortysomethings (including helmer, probably) go all dewy-eyed.
Sara (Veronica Sanchez) escapes for a night away from her uptight mother Ana (Isabel Ordaz) and world-weary father Antonio (Mariano Pena). She meets her b.f. Toni (Aitor Merino) at the El Calentito club, a typical movida nightspot.
They watch a concert by punk band Las Siux, featuring Leo (Macarena Gomez), Carmen (Ruth Diaz) and Chus (Lluvia Rojo), who make the Sex Pistols sound like Stravinsky.
When the virginal Sara refuses to sleep with Toni, he abandons her and she hits the bottle. She wakes up the following day in Carmen’s house and is told that Chus has left the band and they want her to stand in for an upcoming interview the band has with record company boss Sr. Matas (Antonio Dechent, superb as usual). He agrees to attend a concert by the band on Feb. 23 — which, nod nod, wink wink, we all know was the night of the coup.
Doe-eyed tube star Sanchez does a decent job as Sarah. There are other standout perfs from Nuria Gonzalez, as a transvestite who runs the El Calentito, and Jordi Vilches, who as Leo’s b.f. Ferdy confirms his status as one of the best of the Spanish under-25s thesps.
But Gomez as Leo is too relentlessly shrieking, while the normally reliable Ordaz is just a bag of mannerisms.
Too much time is devoted to the live performance of songs which 25 years on just sound bad. Though the general air of willful transgression that characterized the period is well-rendered, the loss of virginity motif as a parallel for Spain’s maturing into democracy is given no new twists here, while the story of the band is pretty unsubtle as drama. Comedy, mostly dialogue-based, works more often than not.
Art director Julio Torrecilla, who did terrific period work on Pablo Berger’s “Torremolinos 73,” does an equally fine job here. Lensing is appropriately hand-held restless.