The opening credits of “All Night Long” modestly describe the pic as “footnotes,” a fitting description of helmer Isaki Lacuesta’s meditation on the lengthy, mutually adoring relationship between Ava Gardner and Spain during the 1950s and ’60s. Fusing archival footage, interviews and creatively used film clips into an entertaining and visually inventive whole, the docu nevertheless fails to scratch beneath the already well-worn surface of the thrilling legend of Gardner the formidable hedonist, and says far more about Francoist Spain than about its ostensible subject. “Night” could awaken in fest beds, with likely tube pickups.
Docu traces Gardner’s connections with Spain from 1951, when she arrived in a sleepy Catalan fishing village to shoot “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” to 1986, when she made “Harem.” Juxtaposed images of Gardner at different ages make it clear her life was fairly intense in the meantime, partly due to her high-rolling years in Spain.
Pic starts out by examining the impact of Gardner’s arrival in a nation financially and culturally impoverished by more than a decade of Franco’s dictatorship — “a country of people dead of hunger,” as one interviewee states. Films referenced include “Welcome Mr. Marshall!,” Luis Berlanga’s 1953 masterpiece about the non-arrival of American aid in rural Spain.
Interviewees are mainly Spaniards who barely knew Gardner, including Pere Gomis, a fisherman who briefly appears in the early scenes of “Pandora,” and Ana Maria Chaler, the actress’ body double. Like many of the other talking heads, they reveal something of themselves as well as something of Spain (in a witty, pointed comment about censorship, we see the elderly Chaler emerging naked from the waves as she did playing Pandora, but this time with a full-frontal view). However, there’s little here a generation of Spaniards and Gardner buffs won’t already know.
Gardner’s relationship with one bullfighter, Mario Cabre (which provoked her worried then-husband Frank Sinatra to fly to Spain), and her marriage to another, Luis Miguel Dominguin, are documented. Dominguin’s ex-wife, actress Lucia Bose, helpfully explains that Gardner loved nightlife. “There was a time,” the narration drolly notes, “that it was hard to find a Spaniard who hadn’t slept with Ava Gardner.”
The most entertaining recollections come from delightfully campy bar pianist Paco Miranda, whose walls are even now covered with images of the actress. (Miranda is the only interviewee who literally (if chastely) slept with the actress, during a siesta.) Occasionally, pic opens little windows on film history, such as the amusing revelation that Sinatra’s abysmal Spanish accent in “The Pride and the Passion” (1957) was due to the fact that he was coached by a German.
Gardner hated Franco, but the troubling notion that she may ultimately have been a puppet of his regime, making Spain acceptable in the eyes of the foreign media, is touched on only briefly.
On the creative side, Lacuesta has clearly done his research. Pic superbly splices together dialogue from different Gardner movies to form a sort of running commentary on her life, sometimes even having the younger Gardner engage with her older self.