Two septuagenarian grannies reconnect more than half a century after they shared a furtive kiss in the pleasant if slightly protracted Basque romance “80 Days.” Though the smoothly produced pic caters to many underserved niches at once — including those based on language, age, gender and sexual orientation — the work of writer-directors Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga never feels less than the specific story of a frumpy farmer’s wife and a successful (and out) big-city music professor. LGBT fests have a winner here, while mainstream fests catering to older auds should also take note.
Though same-sex love stories are not uncommon in Spanish cinema, they are rarely set in the Basque Country — or filmed in the Basque language. Besides Roberto Caston’s recent rural guy-on-guy romance “Ander,” and Antonio Hens’ gay terrorist drama “Clandestinos” (which was mostly in Spanish), there is hardly a precedent for “80 Days.” Much to its credit, the film makes nothing of its position as one of the first Basque lesbian romances. Limited release in northern Spain, subtitled in Spanish, did OK biz this spring.
Story is an accessible, even familiar one. Mousy housewife Axun (Itziar Aizpuru, appropriately dowdy), who lives on a farm with her standoffish hubby (Jose Ramon Argoitia), starts visiting a San Sebastian hospital when the ex-husband of her now U.S.-based daughter (Ane Gabarain) falls into a coma after a car accident. Though the man is no longer officially part of the family, Axun feels someone needs to be at his side since he has no other relatives.
In the same room, an assertive femme of Axun’s age, Maite (Mariasun Pagoaga, strong), looks after her brother, also in a coma. As in Pedro Almodovar’s far more complex “Talk to Her,” the two people looking after comatose patients form an intense bond. In an expertly timed scene that is both hilarious and touching, Axun and Maite realize they already know each other, and even flirted and kissed back in high school (later shown in warm-hued flashbacks, one of the pic’s few unnecessary ventures into facile melodrama).
But life has moved on in the intervening 50-odd years, and Axun, who has never acted on her homosexual desires since, is both disturbed and fascinated by this unexpected reunion. Opposites still attract: Maite, who is about to retire after an international academic career, has lived most of her life as an out-and-proud lesbian.
The rest of the film charts Axun’s difficulties in trying to navigate the opposing forces of her desire and her sense of propriety as a married woman from the sticks, a tension that is not quite enough to sustain the pic’s bloated 106-minute running time, though both actresses are appealing presences throughout. The scenes that show Axun’s daughter in America — unconvincingly re-created in Spain — are essentially filler.
Tech credits, including d.p. Javi Agirre Erauso’s supple widescreen lensing, are glossy. Combined with the lack of steamy geriatric sex, the film is about as mainstream an entertainment as the subject allows, with well-observed moments of humor nicely offsetting the somewhat predictable moments of drama.