Friday, December 18, 2009

SCN: In THE DANCER AND THE THIEF Fernando Trueba mixes genres...

...and falls on his face. But very artistically: This is a mighty pretty movie. THE DANCER AND THE THIEF (El baile de la Victoria) is also the one full-fledged clunker of the Spanish Cinema Now series. Why? Let me count the ways. Its mash-up of genres -- the way it conflates the prison movie with the heist movie with the thriller with the romance with -- yes! -- Flashdance with the hostage film, with National Velvet is, well, unusual, to say the least. That almost none of this makes good sense, let alone works as cinema, is bizarre enough. Eventually, it almost seems as though the co-writer and director Fernando Trueba had so many stories and plot strands to work out that he decided, if he just kept going, things would somehow find closure. But no: They just get screwier. And while this approach makes the movie a very long haul, it does not help it coalesce.

Señor Trueba has had what we might call a checkered film career, a lot of it in Spanish television. After working for some years, he produced and directed Belle Epoque, which unaccountably won our Best Foreign Film in 1994. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't that good. He went on to make one somewhat enjoyable financial flop here in the U.S. (Two Much), then bounced back, in Spain at least, with some OK movies like The Girl of Your Dreams, Calle 54 and The Shanghai Spell. And now here we are with this fine mess.

I could detail the plot for you, as certain reviewers never fail to do, but I swear, you would only say, "What?" So I will just note that the film leaps off from a day in Chile (rather than, as I had formerly stated, Spain: thanks Patrick, for your comment, below) where some sort of prison "amnes-
ty" is given, in which certain prisoners, figured to be non-
violent and who have served a portion of their term, are released. Ricardo Darin (shown above, right, and bottom, left), the fine Argen-
tine actor, plays one of these: a world-famous safe-cracker. Ano-
ther young man, Ángel (called "Cupid" by the prison staff, played by the cute, round-faced actor Abel Ayala, shown just above) who has evidently been raped by the prison warden, is also released. Do their paths cross again on the outside, along with that of the warden? Ah, you've seen a few movies in your day!

Other paths cross, too. The dancer of the title (played by Miranda Bodenhofer, above) makes her appearance very soon, with her own back story about the "disappeared" that could choke a horse (maybe the one in this movie!) and has already been used in a number of other films. That naughty warden keeps weaving in and out, and in one of the movie's least believable moments, though he imagines his life is in danger, he takes a public bus home from work. Well, maybe Spanish prison wardens make no money. Or perhaps we can chalk it up to the needs of a poorly-imagined screenplay. The co-writers, by the way, are Antonio Skármeta and Jonás Trueba (Fernando's son), so we'll let them argue over the script's many (de)merits.

Overall, the movie, though dreadful, is watchable due to the gorgeous cinematography of Julián Ledesma, of whose work we shall certainly being seeing more, and the crazier-by-the-scene genre mash-up, which I admit begins to provide some dumb fun. And don't even try to figure out the ending: My "take" is that they're all in heaven and that the friendly condor is really god. The Dancer and the Thief plays one more time, tomorrow, Saturday, December 19, at 6pm at the Walter Reader Theater.


Patrick Blaine said...

This movie is set in Chile, not Spain. I would suggest reading the book in this case. It's available in translation (or Spanish) and is much better than the movie.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Patrick. How did I miss THAT bit of information?! Bad, Jim. I would guess that the book is indeed better, which usually is the case when novels are made into movies. But this film is SO bad in so many ways (except it sure is beautiful to look at!) that it has put me off any further investigation. There are just too many movies to see and books to read. But I sure appreciate your cluing me in. I will now change my post to reflect the right location.