Sunday, August 18, 2013

Netflix streaming tip: Álex de la Iglesia's under-seen AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT

By now Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia has shown us pretty clearly that he works in a couple of modes: the over-the-top variety (Day of the Beast, Perdita Durango, La Comunidad, 800 Bullets and The Last Circus) and his tamped-down versions, which would include to some extent The Perfect Crime, most definitely The Oxford Murders, and now, his latest work, AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT (La chispa de la vida). Though de la Iglesia is quite good at both modes, die-hard fans, not to mention most critics, seem to prefer his over-the-top movies. Which is fine -- except that they then downgrade (unfairly, I think) his quieter but every bit as interesting work.

With As Luck Would Have It, the filmmaker, pictured at right, is attempting -- succeeding, too -- at several things. He's taking a look at life these days in our very down economy (Spain's situation makes the USA's look good); he's showing us, sometimes comically, sometimes not so, how far individuals will go to enrich themselves and their reputations; he's making fun of our media-obsessed, twittering times; he's offering up the world as one big marketing event; and finally he's exploring differences between men and women and how the former looks to work and money for salvation, while the latter puts love of family above all else. If this sounds like it's going to be every bit as serious as it is funny, you're on to something. As usual, our critics wanted things more obvious and simple (and comedic) -- maybe a no-holds-barred satire of our marketing society, as though this hasn't been tried already.

So, yes, this filmmaker has bitten off quite a chunk here, but what's most impressive about his movie is how well he negotiates the twists and turns of his story as the mood changes from bitter to sweet, comical to moving, and back again. Our hero is a smart ad man named Roberto (José Mota, above) who's been out of work for too long but today has what might be an important interview with an old friend.

Roberto's Mexican wife, Luisa (Salma Hayek, gorgeous as ever but more sympathetic than usual in this role) stands by her man, and in fact by her whole family, as events, led by one near-disaster, pile up until all of Spain is holding its breath over Roberto's fate.

Perhaps the most unusual, certainly the most spectacular, thing about the entire movie is its setting that houses the event and then the remainder of the film. It's a huge amphitheater (in the background, two photos above) created from ruins (above) discovered under the site of an old hotel where Roberto and Luisa spent their honeymoon. This no-longer-extant hotel serves as the link to before and after the "event." (That's a very good Fernando Tejero, above, as Roberto's "agent.")

The town's mayor (played by the late Juan Luis Galiardo, above, right) and his underling (the great Blanca Portillo, above, left) bring humor and bureaucracy to the proceedings, while Robert and Luisa's children (that's the couple's son, played by Eduardo Casanova, below, right) put us in touch with today's youth.

We get such a good look at everything from the medical profession to newscasters, agents, media moguls (below), advertising mavens, public officials and more that the film is like a window into western society, whose values at this point are -- how to put this? -- upside down.

There are so many wonderful moments in this movie -- funny, moving, pointed, surprising -- provided by the screenwriter (Randy Feldman of Tango & Cash!), the direction, and the many actors playing characters both major and minor that there is no way in hell the film doesn't merit a recommendation. (For the agent's "product placement" moment alone -- don't blink or you'll miss it, below -- the movie merits an extra star.)

Luisa's final decision, in fact, is a kind of amazing endorsement/
deal-breaker. The fact that so many of us will refuse to believe that this decision is even possible or that anyone today would actually opt for it simply shows how debased and cynical we've become.

In its style, setting, beauty, odd juxtapositions and moral clarity, the film is unlike just about anything else you will have viewed. Don't let it go by unseen.

From IFC Films and running 98 minutes, As Luck Would Have It is available now via Netflix Streaming -- and perhaps elsewhere.

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