Friday, August 16, 2013

Spanish mainstream teen flick! Caldera's sweet and goofy GHOST GRADUATION

What is it about the afterlife that attracts so many movie-makers (not to mention audiences)? I mean, really -- we know nothing about it, but that doesn't stop us from imagining. Yes, of course: It's a way to cheat death. Even if the whole idea is complete nonsense we can still bask in the possibility of some sort of continuation once we're finished. I'm musing on this subject because two of the sweetest films I've seen in quite a while are both ghost-related: Ferzan Ozpetek's wonderful Magnificent Presence (click and scroll down), from last year's Open Roads festival, and now the less meaty, but charming and delightful GHOST GRADUATION (Promoción fantasma) which had a one-time screening at last years Spanish Cinema Now fest but is opening -- hooray! -- theatrically today, in, of course, a very limited way.

In this alternately funny, cute, gross and romantic fantasy-comedy -- written by Cristóbal Garrido and Adolfo Valor, and directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera (shown at left) -- a school teacher who, all his life, appears to have been able to see and relate to ghosts, is placed in a high school where five of these "beings" -- students who were killed in a fire 20 years ago --  are wreaking havoc on teachers and staff, although, for some reason, they seem to leave the students alone. (Professional courtesy, I presume?)

Turns out the ghosts have unfinished business to take care of, which means, in the teacher's mind at least, graduation. The ghosts, however, are not so sure.

In the leading role of the teacher, one of our favorite actors and a staple at SCN, Raúl Arévalo, does his usual terrific job without seeming to break a sweat. He's charming and funny and sexy and helpless, winning us over in a flash.

Arévalo is supported by a fine cast that includes Aura Garrido (above, and also seen at SCN in The Body), as a live student who falls in love with one of the ghosts, and Alexandra Jiménez (below, right) as the principal of the school, who falls in love with Arévalo.

Also on view is the very funny Carlos Areces (below, of The Last Circus and last year's Extraterrestrial), playing the character of what appears to exist in Spain as something like our own PTA president.

I make no grand claims for this very mainstream Spanish movie. Yet, taken on its own terms, it is quite enjoyable. Compared to what most of our Hollywood people might do with the same subject, Ghost Graduation comes off as a surprisingly sweet and generous movie.

Although the film played only once at last year's SCN, because its opening frames sported the Fox International logo, I suspected there was a chance that we'd be able to see it again over here, at least on DVD. Even better, we're getting this little theatrical release, which is going to have audiences exiting the theater feeling awfully good -- probably with a tear coming out of the corner of one eye and a sweet, dopey grin on the face.

Ghost Graduation, running 88 minutes, opens today, Friday, August 16, in Manhattan at the AMC Empire 25, and in New Jersey at the AMC Loews Jersey Gardens 20. Elsewhere? I hope so, but the AMC Movie site was no help in finding any others. But now, I suspect, we're sure to eventually see a DVD release.

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