An engrossing return to filmmaking after a 13-year layoff by 81 year-old Jaime de Arminan, “14, Fabian Road” is, at its heart, gripping, but wobbly around the edges. An evocative, understated meditation on the roots of artistic creation embedded in an unusual tale of revenge, the film teems with ideas that are never simply abstractions and is peopled by satisfyingly offbeat characters; away from the main storyline, however, it lacks drama. Despite its contempo concerns, pic seems to belong to a different cinematic era, and is too rarified for mainstream appeal. Still, this “Road” should lead naturally to discerning fest auds.
The career of Camila Ponte (Julieta Cardinali), best-selling novelist and media star, is being overseen by Fernanda Segovia (Cuca Escribano) and Enrique Gonzalvo (Fele Martinez), who are anxiously awaiting the delivery of the writer’s second book. Camila has writer’s block and is about to have a nervous breakdown. Vega Galindo (Ana Torrent), seemingly a major fan who has been following Camila round Spain, whisks the disoriented writer away to a beautiful country hotel run by Palmira (Angela Molina); the hotel is also occupied by Benson (Homero Antonutti), a nostalgist who runs a Communist radio station.
Vega calls Fernanda, at her wits’ end, to tell them that Camila will soon be able to deliver the manuscript. Camila starts to recover — and to write, feeling liberated by her new friendship.
Up to this point, we believe Vega is an obsessive but caring fan of the writer, but it emerges she has brought Camila to the hotel for a different reason: Vega has proof Camila’s best-selling first novel was not written by Camila at all, but by a former lover of hers in London — the pic’s title alludes to a London address — who also happened to be Vega’s father.
That the elegant, sophisticated Camila is simply a marketable image and not a novelist at all, becomes a problem with the pic’s story when she is suddenly seen to produce a publishable novel over the final reel.
Lively perfs from both Torrent as the calm but internally disturbed Vega and Cardinali as the fragile, ethereally beautiful Camila bring substance and nuance to their bizarre cat-and-mouse relationship, though Torrent has the stronger screen presence.
Things are shakier away from the main story. Benson is an engaging enough figure, providing comic relief as l’Internationale booms out from his radio station around the Castilian plains, but he fits uneasily into the drama. Fernanda, Enrique and Enrique’s father Gonzalo (Fernando Guillen), who owns the publishing house, are little more than ciphers. Molina retains her charisma, with one memorable sequence devoted to her flamenco dancing.
Color-rich visuals do full justice to both the rambling interiors of Palmira’s hotel and to the striking, sunlit landscapes of a region not named in pic, but which is actually Extremadura in western Spain. Music, often flamenco-tinged, does not always feel appropriate but is pleasant enough in itself.