Combining gentle comedy, social crit and sentimentality into an enjoyable and surprisingly spiky whole, Carlos Iglesias’ debut “Crossing the Border” is a traditional heartwarmer with enough contempo edge to keep it from looking merely old-fashioned. Built around the true-life journey of two luckless Spaniards to Switzerland in search of work, pic features exuberant perfs, particularly from tube thesp Iglesias himself. Script is alert to the dangers of its own cliches, and a darker final reel enriches everything that precedes it. A positive reaction from Spanish over-50s is guaranteed, while this mainstream tale’s universal charms could see it crossing borders.
In Franco’s Madrid in 1960, mechanic Martin (Iglesias) and his wife Pilar (Nieve de Medina) live in a miserable basement flat with their son Pablito (Ivan Martin) and Carlos’ parents. Unknown to Martin, Pilar has put a deposit down on a new, bigger house, but her dreams evaporate when Martin loses his job, a victim of Spain’s economic restructuring.
Martin faces reality, and reluctantly decides, along with best buddy Marcos (Javier Gutierrez) to head for Switzerland, where they have heard a franc is worth 14 pesetas. The train journey establishes Martin and Marcos as an engaging comic tandem — Martin scruffy, unshaven and down-at-heel; Marcos dapper and spry.
In an Alpine village like nothing they’ve ever seen before, they stay in a boarding house run by Hanna (Isabel Blanco), the kind of blonde who pops the eyes of Spanish males of the era. Old-fashioned fish-out-of-water humor through this section is the pic’s weakest.
Just as Martin is embarking on a somewhat unlikely liaison with Hanna, Pilar and Pablo turn up in the village. From here on, with Pilar wishing to leave and Martin wanting to stay, the pic becomes darker and more reflective. The last half-hour, which focuses on the growing Pablo (Tim Frederic Quast) at times unexpectedly deals with something approaching despair. The moving final scene offers no easy closure.
Spanish comedies about Spaniards feeling out of their depth in foreign countries abound, but the script here has a social agenda, too — without being slice-of-life, it seems to authentically rep the experiences of the thousands of Spaniards who faced Martin’s unhappy plight in the ’60s.
Only Martin, for whom the adjective “hangdog” might have been invented, ever transcends stereotype, but the zest of the perfs means things are never tiresome. Nieve de Medina stands out as the domineering matriarch who refuses to admit she’s fallen on hard times.
Lensing conveys both the grim claustrophobia of life in Madrid and the airiness of the Alps, contributing to the drama of the pic’s basic conflict. Attractive piano-based score successfully underpins mood.