Category Archives: Bigas Luna

The Chambermaid on the Titanic (1997)

 “It would be wonderful to die of love.”

Chambermaid on the TitanicIn the film, The Chambermaid on the Titanic French factory worker Horty (Oliver Martinez) wins the company’s annual contest of strength (once again), but this year, the prize is a bit different. Horty is sent to Southampton, England to watch the launching of the Titanic. At first, Horty’s wife, Zoe (Romane Bohringer) is thrilled because she thinks she will go too, but the prize is for Horty alone, so he leaves for Southampton, and Zoe stays at home.

Horty goes to the Southampton hotel where he is supposed to spend the night, and once inside his room, a beautiful young woman knocks on the door and asks if she can spend the night. Horty, at first refuses, but the young French woman appeals to his chivalrous side. The woman, Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), says she is a chambermaid on the Titanic. Since she’s due to sail tomorrow and just needs a place to sleep for the night, Horty lets her stay….

Upon returning to France, Horty is greatly changed. His wife notices his altered demeanor, and soon a sulkily distracted Horty is down at the pub with his fellow workers. Someone notices that he has a photograph of Marie, and soon everyone wants to know who she is and exactly what Horty’s relationship is with this beautiful mystery woman. Horty begins to tell stories about Marie, and although the stories begin with romance, Horty’s audience begins to demand the salacious details. Night after night Horty entertains his fellows with his erotic tales. The audience members are all workers whose drab hand-to-mouth existence leaves little energy or money at the end of the day. Horty’s tale of sexual passion with a passing stranger begins to represent the workers’ entertainment and their collective fantasies.

When news that the Titanic has sunk reaches the factory workers, they frenziedly request Horty’s story about Marie over and over again–and the situation becomes intolerable for Zoe. But a quirk of fate leads Horty to an acting career and he takes his stories to a wider audience. Shaped by a savvy, seasoned manager, Horty’s performance becomes more and more elaborate as his audience becomes more affluent.

The story is really about the blending–and collision–of fantasy and truth. Horty and his fellow workers have no glamour or fantasy in their bleak lives until Horty begins entertaining everyone with his stories. Soon it isn’t even important if the stories are true or blatant lies. What’s important is the ability to weave fantasy. But there is danger in fantasy–as Horty discovers–fantasy has a way of getting completely out-of-control, and when fantasy take over your life, does fantasy then become reality?

This is a very clever and unusual film from Spanish director Bigas Luna. It is perhaps one of the most haunting foreign films I’ve ever seen–a very unconventional romance–packed with good, solid acting, a script loaded with surprises, and splendid cinematography. If you enjoy this film I recommend two other films: Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband and Girl on the Bridge.

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Sound of the Sea (2001)

 “Travelers willing to make together the journey of no return.”

Sound of the Sea DVDIn The Sound of the Sea Spanish director Bigas Luna creates a romance, wraps it up with allusions to mythology and produces a marvelous tale of love, passion and revenge. Martina (Leonor Watling) works in her parents’ cafe, listens to rap music and remembers the day a film star visited their small coastal town. Ulises (Jordi Molla), the newly employed literature teacher arrives and rents a room from Martina’s parents. The extremely wealthy Sierra (Eduard Fernandez) courts Martina–a relationship much encouraged by Martina’s parents–but clearly she prefers the more elusive Ulises. Ulises and Martina seem an unlikely pair–she possesses undeveloped strains of materialism, and Ulises is a dreamer and a drifter. But when Ulises quotes favourite passages from the Aeneid to Martina, it seems to satisfy them both–the poetic exercise captures her trapped imagination, and also allows him to impress her. When Martina discovers she’s pregnant, Ulises agrees to marry her. There’s a brief honeymoon, and then the couple are back to domesticity and discontent.

After the birth of their baby, Martina is invited to attend a party at Sierra’s mansion. While Sierra still indicates his interest in Martina, Ulises eyeballs a seductive brunette in a red dress. After a brief squabble, Martina and Ulises abruptly leave the party. The next day Ulises goes fishing and disappears …

Years pass. With Ulises officially dead, Martina marries Sierra. He adopts her son, and Martina lounges next to the pool, flipping through fashion magazines as she lives in the lap of luxury. Total materialism suits Martina somehow–she’s become sleeker, harder, and much more polished. Surrounded by a pet crocodile and matching Alsatians, it seems almost as though Martina finally landed up living the life she really belongs in. And then the phone calls begin. Ulises has returned …

The Sound of the Sea–based on the novel by Manuel Vicent–is another remarkable film from Bigas Luna. It begins as a sticky sweet romance but then morphs into something much darker–much deeper. “From loving to not loving is a road everyone travels”–but have Ulises and Martina traveled that road? The film’s cinematography is simply spectacular–captivating shots of the sea in its many states echo throughout the film and resonate long after the closing credits. In Spanish with English subtitles, the DVD extras include: cast interviews, an interview with the director, and a cast photo gallery. If you enjoy this film, I recommend The Chambermaid on the Titanic also by Bigas Luna.

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Golden Balls (1993)

 “I married her for money. She’s an investment.”

Golden Balls DVDIn Bigas Luna’s film Golden Balls Benito Gonzalez (Javier Bardem) is a loutish, crude Spanish construction worker with ambitious plans to build the tallest building in the city. The film begins in Morocco, and Benito’s relationship with the lithe Rita (Elisa Tovati) is about to end badly. Benito–who’s not the sensitive sort–moves on to bigger and better things, and when the film picks up the story again, Benito is now back in Spain, the owner of a construction company assisted by Rita’s brother Mosca (Francisco Casares).

Even though Benito now has his foot on the first rung of the ladder to success, his character continues to trip him up. His construction company is on the brink of bankruptcy. He works without permits, breaking the rules along the way to his ambition to build the Gonzalez Tower (with its own massage parlour)–a homage to his ego, and also, the film makes clear–a giant phallic symbol. When Benito runs out of money, he manipulates his latest love, secretary and would-be actress Claudia (Maribel Verdu) into sleeping with an influential banker, and when that plan fails, he marries the banker’s naive daughter, Marta (Maria de Medieros).

Golden Balls is the story of the rise and inevitable fall of Benito–a second rate Lothario whose machismo-ridden character brings success but also destroys him. Bigas Luna’s film is a wry sexual farce that examines Benito’s progress in the world as he uses the women in his life to get ahead. A devotee of Julio Iglesias, who’s fond of Karaoke, when Benito finally gets money, his crass, lavish lifestyle includes two Rolex watches and his fulfilled dream of possessing his very own lobster tank. Similarly, the women in Benito’s life are also his possessions. Believing he “moves better” with a woman with an ideal weight of 94 lbs, he obsesses about their weights. While his motto is “always be generous with women and politicians” in reality, to Benito that sometimes translates to promising women their own bidets.

Javier Bardem fans will enjoy this sly film and its characterization of the larger-than-life Benito and his equally disproportionate ego. I’ve seen a couple of different covers for this DVD, and on my copy, Bardem is depicted grabbing his crotch; that just about says it all for his character. With over-the-top phallic symbolism, Bigas Luna charts Benito’s clumsy progress through Spanish society and his goal to “move in a different sphere.” Ultimately, Golden Balls shows that whatever sphere of society we may move to, we take our characters along with us–for better or for worse. Keep your eyes open for Benicio Del Toro in a small role. In Spanish with subtitles.

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Filed under Bigas Luna, Javier Bardem, Spain