Carmina or Blow Up

In tough times, Spaniards turn to family, which is just what thesp-turned-helmer Paco Leon has done with his distinctive, enjoyable debut, "Carmina or Blow Up."

With: Carmina Barrios, Maria Leon, Paco Casaus, Ana Maria Garcia.

In tough times, Spaniards turn to family, which is just what thesp-turned-helmer Paco Leon has done with his distinctive, enjoyable debut, “Carmina or Blow Up.” Star of the show is Leon’s larger-than-life mother, Carmina Barrios, around whom he’s built a quirky contraption that’s part character study, part faux docu, part homage to the Andalucian picaresque tradition and part lively love letter to Mom. Pic depends entirely on whether the public feels affection for its exuberant, motormouthed protag, which Spanish auds have done, suggesting that fests, too, might fall for “Carmina.”

A 58-year-old bar owner, Carmina (Barrios) sits in her Seville kitchen, chain-smoking and musing on life while feeding the goat that lives with her. Her daughter, spirited single mom Maria (Barrios’ real-life daughter, Maria Leon, who was lauded for her perf in Benito Zambrano’s “The Sleeping Voice”), likewise introduces herself to the camera, as does Carmina’s ne’er-do-well, heavy-drinking husband, Antonio (Paco Casaus, a family friend).

The slim plotline, which takes a backseat to character observation, recounts the story of Carmina’s attempts to make up for the money lost after 80 hams were stolen from her bar. Flashbacks recap brief, telling events in Carmina’s life, showing her defiance and cunning at sidestepping misfortune. When a debt collector comes, she hits herself over the head with a bottle and accuses him of attacking her. She’s taken to the hospital after accidentally drinking a douche solution. According to the helmer, some of these things actually took place, but he’s coy about which ones.

Although Barrios won the actress award at the Malaga fest, Carmina is mostly just being herself. She’s the kind of resilient, good-hearted and unintentionally hilarious femme character whom Pedro Almodovar has made a career out of celebrating. Raunchy, continually complaining about her ailments, hypercritical of others but still defensive of her worthless hubby, she delivers a string of pearls of Andalucian wit and wisdom: “I’m not fat,” she says. “I’m the very opposite of anorexic.”

Pic is strongest during her direct-address monologues. Casaus’ almost incoherent speech, which includes the lovely line “Life is so lovely, it almost seems real,” introduces a note of tenderness, while a first communion celebration, featuring a potent flamenco cante from Maria, shows that it’s not all about the grim struggle for survival; pic is thankfully low on direct social commentary.

For the record, this low-budget item is the first Spanish film to be released simultaneously in theaters, DVD, on pay TV and online, with positive first-weekend results that suggest a new distribution model for the Spanish industry. The untranslatable Spanish title is a pun on Vicente Aranda’s 1987 movie “El Lute: Camina o revienta.”

Popular on Variety

Carmina or Blow Up


Production: An Alta Classics release of a Jaleo Films, Andy Joke production. (International sales: Jaleo Films, Seville.) Executive producers, Alvaro Alonso, Paco Leon, Paloma Juanes. Directed, written by Paco Leon.

Crew: Camera (color), Juan Gonzalez; editor, Ana Alvarez Ossorio-Hengst; music, Pony Bravo; art director, Antonio Estrada; costume designer, Esther Vaquero; sound (Dolby Digital), Daniel de Zayas; supervising sound editor, Pelayo Gutierrez; assistant director, Laura Alvea. Reviewed at Cines Golem, Madrid, July 3, 2012. (In Malaga Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 70 MIN.

With: With: Carmina Barrios, Maria Leon, Paco Casaus, Ana Maria Garcia.

More Film

  • Rita And Tom Hanks Coronavirus

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Return to U.S. After Coronavirus Diagnosis in Australia

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are back home in the U.S. after they revealed they had contracted coronavirus and were quarantined in Australia. Hanks gave an update on Twitter Saturday morning, thanking everyone who had helped them in Australia and assuring people that they are still isolating themselves in the U.S. “Hey, folks…We’re home now [...]

  • Film Comment Magazine Goes on Hiatus

    Film Comment Magazine to Go on Hiatus as Film at Lincoln Center Lays Off Half of Staff

    Many companies are being financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Film at Lincoln Center is the latest organization to have to lay off employees and pause some of their operations. On Friday, executive director Lesli Klainberg released a memo announcing that the center had to furlough or lay off about half of its [...]

  • "Birds of Prey" egg sandwich

    'Birds of Prey' Actor Bruno Oliver Recreates Harley Quinn's Famous Sandwich

    When actor Bruno Oliver booked the role of short order cook Sal in “Birds of Prey: (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” he had no idea how significant Sal and his breakfast sandwich were to the story. “You couldn’t tell from the audition necessarily and as actors, we always worry about our scenes [...]

  • Minyan

    'Minyan': Film Review

    Best known for the unexpectedly soul-shattering San Francisco suicide doc “The Bridge,” indie filmmaker Eric Steel came out and came of age in 1980s New York at a moment just before AIDS devastated the city’s gay community. Such timing must have been surreal, to assume something so liberating about one’s own identity, only to watch [...]

  • Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches

    Film New Roundup: Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches North American Distribution

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Queen’s Corgi” finds a home, the Overlook Film Festival is postponed and the California Film Commission adjusts its tax credit rules due to the coronavirus. ACQUISITION Freestyle Digital Media has acquired North American rights to the animated family comedy feature “The Queen’s Corgi,” and plans to make it available on DVD and to [...]

  • APA Logo

    APA Sets Salary Cuts and Furloughs in Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic

    Following in the steps of several agencies dealing with the coronavirus, APA has informed all offices of upcoming salary cuts along with possible suspensions and furloughs for employees due to the pandemic’s economic effect on the industry. APA board of directors will make the largest financial sacrifice. The move has been made to avoid layoffs [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content