The latest Spanish immigration-themed pic, erstwhile docu helmer Pedro Perez-Rosado’s “Salt Water” is a well-observed, well-intentioned item whose quiet virtues go a long way to compensating for its lack of flair. Pic’s point that not only immigrants are condemned to $3-an-hour lives in the brave new Europe is well-made, but ultimately too familiar to make much of an impact, especially outside the borders of Spanish-speaking territories.
Cuban Olga (Puerto Rican thesp Yoima Valdes) arrives on Spain’s east coast claiming to be on a scholarship, but actually destined for a local furniture factory run by an unnamed owner (Lola Molto) and her foreman Johnny (Juan Carlos Morales), who has an industrial-sized libido. Foul-tempered Mari Jo (Leyre Berrocal) also works there, earning a few extra bucks at night as a prostitute.
The harsh realities of immigrant life chip slowly away at Olga’s self-esteem, but the fire in her revives when she catches Mari Jo with Johnny in the warehouse.
Characters’ victimhoods — as workers, women and immigrants — are sledgehammered in without any let-up, and, although it may be realistic, it becomes monotonous .
Nonetheless, Valdes has a winning screen presence, andBerrocal increasingly wins sympathy for Mari Jo .
Helmer’s docu experience is revealed in the treatment here, with lensing mostly hand-held, but also in pic’s relentless, sometimes over-insistent, wish to get its message across — a message unrelieved by any humor. A gentle piano and guitar scoreunderscores mood to good effect. Pic features some Catalan dialogue.