Spain’s David Trueba, whose latest feature is the 6 Sales-sold “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed,” an Outsider Pictures U.S. pick-up and Foreign-Language Oscar entry, is prepping a now rare addition to Spanish premium pay TV fiction: an ongoing once-every-five-years franchise development of “¿Que Fue de Jorge Sanz? (lit. “Whatever Happened to Jorge Sanz?).
Bowing Sept. 2010 on Canal Plus España, Spain’s biggest feevee service, “Que Fue,” a large critical hit, has been to date one of the very few original series financed and aired on a paybox in Spain by a pay TV operator, though Telefonica’s purchase of Canal Plus, now awaiting anti-trust clearance, may change that.
As on “Eyes Closed” – which also won the 2014 Palm Springs Fest Cine Latino award, beating out higher-profile foreign-language Academy Award contenders, and took best actor and the Tonino best screenplay prize at Italy’s San Marino Fest – Trueba is set to write and direct.
Also a novelist and columnist for Spain’s opinion-setting quality newspaper El Pais, Trueba originally helmed a six-seg first season of “Que Fue”? It aired on Canal Plus, Spain’s leading premium paybox, from September 2010. Canal Plus offered to re-up for a soph season; Trueba counter-proposed one further episode every five years. First seg’s broadcast in the occasional franchise will broadcast around June 2015.
The new episode picks up where the first installment left off. HBO meets Rafael Azcona – the great Spanish screenwriter whose screenplays, whether directed by Marco Ferreri (“El cochecito”) or Luis Berlanga (“Placido”), chronicle characters efforts of a lifetime to better their lot, all in vain, the six nearly half-hour segs of “Que fue” chronicled in semi-docu style, but with little hint of mockumentary, large deadpan humor and unfailing bathos, the flailing attempts of the real-life Jorge Sanz, played by himself, and supposedly at career rock bottom, to launch a career comeback, aided by his unflaggingly bottle-half-full tyro manager (Eduardo Antuña), a former cheese salesman.
Sanz’s life – professional, domestic, love and lust – becomes a via crucis of humiliation, ostracism and disappointment. Guest appearances included “Torrente” creator Santiago Segura, in the fiction with a house in the sierra, a pool, and a hot-to-trot babe in tow.
Written by Trueba, and set up at his Madrid-based label, Buena Vida Productions, “Que fue de Jorge Sanz?” also unspools as the Spanish cinema remains decimated by multi-front crisis. (Here the fiction needs little exaggeration).
Style will channel “the Italian style to Spanish comedy,” Trueba said, citing Jose Maria Forque’s 1962 “Atraco a las tres” and Pedro Luis Ramirez’s 1957 “El tigre de Chamartin,” made during a golden age of Spanish comedy. Episodes will run slightly longer to about 45 minutes, said Trueba.
“The idea is to air one episode every five years until Jorge is in a senior citizens’ home,” Trueba joked.
Ironically, in real life, Sanz scored playing a hide-bound father with a heart in “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed,” whose diktat that a sons should shear his Beatles mop sparks his decision to run away from home. Hitchhking, he is given a ride by a Spaniard, a mild-mannered English-teacher (played by Javier Camara), who uses Beatles’ lyrics in his classes and in Franco’s 1966 Spain drives to Almeria in the hope of meeting his hero, John Lennon. (The movie’s title comes from a line in Lennon’s song, “Strawberry Fields,” which Lennon wrote while filming “How I Won the War” in Almeria.)
Knowing Beatles songs is one thing; what critics and audiences have warmed to in “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed” is how a good man reacts, within his modest practical limitations, to the archly conservative boorish and bigoted society that dictator Francisco Franco had fostered. In practice, the teacher helps a future single mother, engineers a reconciliation between the young hitchhiker and his now abashed father, and confronts local bores who taunt the runaway at a bar on the coast.
With a large sensibility for Spain’s past, Trueba’s focus has often turned on its unsung heroes, whether fictional –the Republican soldier in “Soldados de Salamina,” a Cannes Un Certain Regard player, who lets an on-the-run Falangist writer escape; or historical ,such as the great, but still little known abroad actor-director Fernando Fernan Gomez, the subject of a 2006 documentary, “La silla de Fernando,” co-directed with Luis Alegre.
Trueba regards “Eyes Closed” as part of a trilogy. “I’ve always wanted to narrate Spain’s twentieth century through characters and given moments that aren’t in themselves any great milestone,” he said. “1987” took place in that year in a bathroom; “Living is Easy” in 1966. A third feature, which is not written, would unspool in 1940.
“People talk a lot about 1939, smack-bang when the Spanish Civil War ended, or 1975, when Franco died. 1940 people don’t talk about so much,” Trueba concluded.