An Andalucia divided between Franco’s Fascist soldiers and communist rebels in the 1950s is the setting for vet helmer Imanol Uribe’s “Orange Honey,” a well-appointed but unexciting historical thriller built around a young protag switching from one side to the other. Although this reps a partial return to form for Uribe following 2007’s “The Nautical Chart,” “Honey” lacks real intensity, and a couple of classy perfs fail to elevate the workmanlike proceedings. Spanish auds’ resistance to anything about their Civil War has hampered local B.O., and the film’s old-fashioned virtues are equally unlikely to sweeten the offshore palate.
Fresh-faced Enrique (an unpracticed Iban Garate) is doing military service as a paper-pusher in the office of military judge Don Eladio (Karra Elejalde, from Iciar Bollain’s “Even the Rain”), who’s given to ordering summary executions of suspected commies following the farcical trials over which he presides. Enrique is engaged to simpering Carmen (Blanca Suarez), later revealed to have a more interesting other side. His ailing mother, Maria (Angela Molina), is in a psychiatric home. His friend Leopoldo (Jose Manuel Poga), a rebel doctor, continually chides Enrique for working for Eladio. But when Enrique witnesses the execution of Maria’s caregiver, Don Jose (Fernando Soto), for printing anti-regime pamphlets, he finally jumps off the moral fence.
The politics, history and passion are raw materials for something memorable, but the pic mixes them into plodding fare. While it does convey a sense of the fear in which Spaniards of the time lived their lives, incorporating chilling, surreal period footage from the Franco-run news channel of the time, it fails to deliver the portentous undertone of, for instance, Benito Zambrano’s “The Sleeping Voice.”
There are, however, a couple of memorable, touching scenes, particularly in the final 30 minutes. Enjoyable perfs from Elejalde and his sidekick, Vicente (the dependable Eduard Fernandez), are also welcome, with the script taking care to make both their characters multidimensional. Moreover, Eladio, while a killer, is also shown to be a loving uncle — though there’s never any doubt about which side of him will prevail.
The central relationship between Enrique and Carmen is too flimsy to carry the dramatic burden. Apart from one beautifully lensed, painterly scene between the two protags, their chemistry is limited; worse, the lack of character work renders the pic’s big revelation groan-inducingly implausible. A subplot featuring the potential romance between Leopoldo and femme fatale Ana (Barbara Lennie) seems extraneous.
Gonzalo Berridi’s widescreen lensing makes the most of some wonderful exteriors, with lighting neatly contrasting the cold interiors of Eliado’s office with honey-hued tones whenever Enrique and Carmen are together. As always with Uribe, period detail is excellent.