Imagine an affair between an aging Blanche Dubois and “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Tom Robinson, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, and you have a taste of the bizarre flavor of “The God of Wood.” Though full of good intentions, pic is short on human drama — strange, given that it purports to examine emotions — and winds up a good-looking but mannered, overly schematic exercise in style. Based on one of his own short stories, esteemed scribe Vicente Molina Foix’s sophomore feature is unlikely to travel as far as its unfortunate protag.
Senegalese Yao (Madi Diocou) and Moroccan Rachid (Soufiane Ouaarab) arrive illegally in Valencia, Spain, and separate. Yao sells pirated DVDs (also Diocou’s job in real life) in the street and wanders disconsolately around the barrio until he glimpses divorcee Maria Luisa (Marisa Paredes) working in her boutique.
High-strung and irritable, Maria Luisa lives with her gay son, Rober (Nao Albet), who, like many other things in life, is a disappointment to her. Rachid, meanwhile, is doing just fine working as a hairstylist in a beauty salon; Rober is hopelessly in love with him. When Yao starts sleeping in Rober’s flat, a confrontation between him and Maria Luisa suddenly becomes inevitable, and when it comes, what could have been an embarrassment is actually handled with grace.
An excessively considered air hangs over practically every scene, draining the pic of spontaneity, apart from the occasional amusing outburst from the ever upbeat Rachid. Editing is dodgy, with several scenes outstaying their welcome as characters engage in idle chit-chat. Some subtle ideas are suggested — it’s a beautiful black mannequin, for example, that first attracts Yao’s attentions in Maria Luisa’s shop, rather than Maria Luisa herself — but few are developed.
The seasoned Paredes, surrounded by non-pros, has to draw on her considerable experience to inject verve into otherwise lifeless scenes; she took acting honors at the recent Malaga fest for her pains. But too often she’s in a dramatic vacuum, and despite flashes of humor, dialogue is often too stilted even for her to save.
Though he is never less than a dignified presence, Yao is just too impassive to inspire much interest; his remarkable comprehension of Spanish also strains credibility, given the actor’s limited ability to speak it. Lenser Andreu Rebes, clearly under instructions to play up the homoerotic angle, often treats him as merely beautiful and statuesque, which he undoubtedly is.
As the forlorn, fey Rober, newcomer Albet looks capable of interesting work in the future, but here is hampered by a script that thankfully makes no attempt at social criticism.