Saturday, May 2, 2020

Fun and games with Ava Gardner and her entourage in Paco León's BURN, MADRID, BURN

The initial scene of BURN, MADRID, BURN (Arde Madrid) -- the popular 2018 Spanish cable TV series making its American debut via MHz Choice this coming week -- is so low-key, clever and pointed that you may think you're in for something pretty special -- a politically, socially, culturally aware look at the early 1960s, Spanish-style.

The delicious black-and-white cinematography (via Pau Esteve Birba) is succulent enough to keep that idea alive for awhile, too. Eventually, however, something best described as crass takes over, and you realize that what you'll be getting here is not quite what you expected.

Wait: Before you take this as a negative review, I ought to say that, to my mind, crass certainly has its uses. And the series' creators, Paco León (shown at right, who co-wrote and directed each of the eight episodes, while acting as one of the producers and taking a leading role, too) and Anna R. Costa put their crassness to pretty productive use throughout.

Burn, Madrid, Burn tells the tale of the time when internationally famous actress Ava Gardner lived in Spain during the early 1960s while her career was making that difficult transition of a beautiful actress now moving into middle age (she had just turned 39 at the time). This is Franco's Spain, remember, so everything from heavy-duty repression, internecine spying and the black market are in full swing.

Now, while Ms Gardner had a reputation for the crass -- she let her preference for males with large cocks be known (her comment about Frank Sinatra's appendage is legendary ) -- the casting of Debi Mazar (above, right) in the role is problematic. God knows, Ms Mazar can do crass with the best of them, but her body is short and chunky, while Gardner's was longer and leaner. As for facial beauty, comparisons are odious there, as well. Fortunately, Mazar gives a good performance otherwise and has a supporting role to the series' real stars: Inma Cuesta (above and below, left) and Mr. León (below, right).

Ms Cuesta is almost always first-rate, while León is particularly adept at playing semi-sleazeballs. The plot takes Cuesta from school-teaching to spying on Gardner for Franco, because the actress is suspected of having Communist sympathies. Bootlegging, bad debts, cross-dressing, the heist of a diamond necklace and more figure into the plot of this eight-episode (each one running around 40 minutes) show, which can pretty easily be binged in a single long sitting.

Treats along the way include Argentina's Juan Peron and his post-Eva wife (Osmar Núñez and Fabiana García Lago, above) who, as downstairs neighbors of Gardner, must put up with her noisy, all-night parties; a pretty young-and-pregnant maid (Anna Castillo, below, center) who proves the sweetest character on view; and one very funny scene involving a full-frontal shot or two of Gardner's one-night-stand and his memorable member in full morning array.

The series may be predictable but it's mostly frothy fun. And that gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is worth your time all by itself. From MHz Choice, Burn, Madrid, Burn hits streaming -- via this notable service specializing in some very good foreign television -- this Tuesday, May 5. Click here for more information.

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