Liberally dusted with magic realism, Venezuelan helmer Fina Torres’ latest feature plays like a sturdier reworking of her “Woman on Top” in which fashion substitutes for food, Venezuelan newcomer Prakriti Maduro assumes the Penelope Cruz role and Havana replaces San Francisco for ambiance. Indeed, Havana, with its now-derelict, once-elegant mansions, proves both the perfect setting and a major player in this romantic farce about a seamstress caught between a rich developer and an impoverished architect. Integrating the city’s fate with her sexy heroine’s empowerment, Torres strikes a uniquely organic, aud-friendly note that should rouse arthouse interest. Pic won the international feature prize at the New York Latino Film Festival.
Eva (Maduro), dissatisfied with the assembly-line sameness of the wedding gowns she sews (her attempts to vary cuts or add color are received with stony disapproval), dreams of designing her own line. She’s engaged to Angel (Carlos Enrique Almirante), who is taking forever to build their house, and their rooftop quickies have begun to pall. Enter handsome Venezuela-based photographer Jorge (Juan Carlos Garcia), who hires her to guide him to various buildings he’s snapping, and soon she finds herself sharing his bed in the genteelly decaying palatial digs inhabited by his superannuated aunties.
Jorge leaves abruptly, his supposed book about “Cuba Then and Now” proving to be a front for clandestine high-rise developments belonging to his family. Eva, with the aid of irrepressible best friend (and part-time hooker) Teresa (Yuliet Cruz), conspires with the aunties (Elsa Camp, Herminia Sanchez) to realize their dreams and convert their home into a teahouse/fashion showroom. An energized Angel, awakened from lazy complacency by Eva’s desertion (and given much-needed G-spot lessons from the ever-helpful Teresa), repairs his relationship with Eva as he patches up the crumbling mansion.
Thus, when a penitent Jorge reappears, having fallen in love with Eva and by extension Havana, Eva must choose between her reformed capitalist and her progressive prole. But in a fanciful world where “you are what you eat” can take on a literal cast, and a girlfriend’s ghost can stick around to keep events on track, anything is possible and romantic choices cease to be mutually exclusive.
Maduro’s feisty Eva lacks something of Penelope Cruz’s earthy oomph, but exudes a similar mix of naivete and sensuality, with cohort Yuliet Cruz’s sassy, blatant body-flaunting thrown in for good measure. And the guys imbue their affable-hunk roles with just enough charm to reflect well on their women.
Torres’ vivid characters are constantly kept in motion, as Havana’s open spaces facilitate movement and secondary players are apt to pop up anywhere (Eva’s fellow seamstresses serve as Greek chorus for all stages of her odyssey). This graceful flow brings the city’s streets and inhabitants into the frame, not as touristy backdrops but as integral elements in an ongoing pageant. Considering today’s largely underpopulated, stiffly demarcated romantic comedies, such carefree plenitude comes as a breath of fresh air.