While the pandemic has reduced film festivals’ capacity to showcase new work, an all-singing, all-dancing Spanish-Italian number has been selected for two.
Sold by Latido Films, “Explota Explota” (“My Heart Goes Boom!”), the debut feature of music promo and commercials director Nacho Álvarez, will receive an RTVE Gala Screening at the San Sebastian Festival next week and has also made the selection for the Toronto Festival’s market screenings.
Set in dictator Francisco Franco’s Spain during the 1970s, the musical comedy tells an unlikely love story between an aspiring dancer (“Beautiful Youth’s” Ingrid García-Jonnson) and the man who must censor her.
Inspired by “Mamma Mia!” and “Hairspray,” Álvarez — brother of Uruguayan Fede Álvarez (“Evil Dead” “Don’t Breathe”) — takes the songs of popular singer, dancer and actress Raffaella Carrà and threads them into a story of forbidden love.
While some might balk at making a musical as their debut feature, Álvarez tells Variety that it had always been his dream.
“’I’ve directed several videos in which music has always been present — for me it was the easiest way of making that transition into features, it just felt natural,” he said.
While production company Tornasol Films seems an unlikely partner, given its previous credits, which include Academy Award prized thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes” and Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” its producer Mariela Besuievsky also harbors musical dreams.
“I wanted to be a dancer, my sister is a choreographer, I’m very much connected to that world, ” she said, adding that, after wrapping up on [Uruguayan solitary confinement drama] “A Twelve-Year Night,” she wanted her next project to be “something a bit more colorful.”
Access to Carrà and permission to use her songs was gained through the film’s co-producers Indigo Films, the producers of Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo,” which had an existing relationship with the singer.
“We approached her through Indigo and literally the next day we were on a plane to have lunch with her,” Álvarez said.
While Carrà never asked to read the script, the director adds that she visited the shoot, saw some of the dance numbers and appeared “thrilled” that that film was being made.
The production, shot on location in Madrid, Pamplona and Rome, wrapped up in January and had reached the post-production stage when Spain locked down over the COVID-19 crisis.
“By that point, we’d locked the picture but the main challenge was synching the music with the choreography,” Álvarez recalled.
The director credits the film’s choreographer Toni Espinosa — a regular on Madrid’s musical theatre scene (“Billy Elliot”, “Matilda” “Grease”) — as acting as the film’s unofficial first assistant director.
“Finding the right choreographer was key for us because we didn’t know how to organize the dancers. It was such a new world and it had its own mechanics, he was key in telling us how much time we needed, ” Álvarez said.
Besuievsky hopes that this slick, extravagant fiesta will “infect” audiences with joy and have them “dancing in the aisles.”.
“Multiple generations of Latin audiences are familiar with Raffaella’s songs and we’re aiming to pull in different generations to the big screen,” she said.
She added the film’s central romance and tone also offer a ‘“feel-good factor” to post-COVID audiences that may see “My Heart” break out into territories less familiar with Carrà or the particulars of Spanish history.
Scheduled for an Oct. 2 release in Spain (through Universal Pictures Intl.), “My Heart’s” other backers are Spanish broadcaster RTVE, which takes Spanish broadcast rights, and Amazon Prime Video, for Spain, which will show the film after its theatrical release.
Both the streamer and broadcaster are promoting the film across their channels, and while a planned flash mob event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, a campaign planned on the social media platform TikTok looks set to reach out to younger demographics.