Sunday, December 9, 2012

SCN: Xavi Puebla's THE COLD CALL offers a sad, sick slice of Spain's current sales world

A kind of early obituary for Capitalism, as practiced Spanish-style today, THE COLD CALL (A puerta fría) is a must-see movie on a number of levels. The FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now series often includes an near-overtly political movie (remember The Method?) concerning the times we inhabit, and I doubt that this year's roster will offer anything better than this quietly profound wake-up call about salesmen that makes the oft-lauded Arthur Miller sledge-hammer ("Attention must be paid," indeed) seem hugely obvious and annoying by comparison.

According to the IMDB, after winning several festival prizes (for actor, screenplay and a Critics' Award), the film has yet to be commercially released in its home territory, Spain itself. Given the current political and economic situation there, I guess this should come as no surprise, for the movie simply nails its target to the wall gracefully and completely. No contest. As directed and co-written (with Jesús Gil Vilda) by Xavi Puebla, shown at left, the film is as strong in characterization as it is on plot, pace, place and dialog. If the finale feels suddenly truncated and the last line unnecessary, that's little concern -- considering all that has come before. The NY Post's Kyle Smith would shit a brick having to sit through this particular indictment of everything Smith loves about big business.

The movie opens with our well-into-middle-age "hero" Salva (above, right) -- and he is one, of sorts, if you consider trying to hold onto a job these days anything like heroic -- arising, somewhat befogged (from drink perhaps?) and getting on with his day. That day will be devoted to attending a trade show for electronics (TVs, DVD players, cameras, and all the rest), and in the course of the day, as his sales are clearly down, it becomes clear that our guy may be replaced by younger blood.

Salva is played by one of Spain's treasures, actor Antonio Dechent (above), who has graced SCN for a decade or two now in roles large and small. He's always first-rate, and here, in his Willy Loman mode (though he's brighter than Loman ever was), he is radiant: smart, scared, nimble, sad, and trying desperately to succeed in an environment in which any kind of honestly-attained success is just about impossible. (The screenplay is very smart about how and why this is the case.)

In the course of Salva's dealings, he connects with a young hostess at the convention named Inés, played with a lovely combination of innocence, need and youthful smarts by María Valverde (above, center left, of King of the Mountain). How these two bond and work together is beautifully handled. The third wheel -- an American big-wig with whom Salva needs to connect -- is played by Nick Nolte, below, who gives a just-right, barely-there performance that packs quite a subtle punch.

That's it on plot -- and everything else. This movie deserves to be seen and to surprise you. Fortunately, it plays one more time at Spanish Cinema Now, next Sunday, December 16, at 5:45 pm at the Walter Reade. (Click here for tickets.) A U.S. release? One would hope so, particularly with Nolte in one of the roles. And let's also hope even more that it can be seen soon on its home turf. Like the great, nearly unseen and highly political Italian film Valzer by Salvatore Maira, this one appears also to be a prophet without honor in its own country.

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