Category Archives: Carmen Maura

Women (1997)

“They’re lesbians. They’re all lesbians.”

Elles (AKA Women) explores the long-term relationships between 5 women who are all on the brink of turning 50. Coping with issues such as romance & sex, motherhood, loneliness, aging and death, the five women realize that the choices they make at 50 are different from the choices made decades ago.

The story is wrapped around anchorwoman Linda’s (Carmen Maura) quest to discover the secret wishes of her four closest friends. We realize–although Linda doesn’t–that her interest in the secret wishes of women is really an expression of her own doubt and internal conflict. Planning on creating a programme focusing on what women wish for, she interviews her friends, Eva (Miou Miou), Barbara (Marthe Keller), Branca (Guesch Patti) and Chloe (Marisa Berenson). Capturing the women’s secret wishes on camera, Linda reveals moments of vulnerability that don’t show on the surface of everyday life.

None of the five women are married, and while men aren’t exactly superfluous here, the film places its male characters of the periphery. Aging chanteuse Branca makes a career out of bedding men and adding another notch onto her belt. While she professes a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude, getting dumped at her age hurts her pride more than she anticipated, and in the meantime she ignores the mental problems endured by her troubled daughter.

Eva, who’s a widow, a professor and the mother of a small son, becomes embroiled in a steamy affair with one of her male students (who’s also Barbara’s son). While she’d love to suspend the almost triple-decade difference in age, can she? Should she?

Barbara is divorced from her optometrist husband. While he’s engaged in a relationship with a much younger woman, Barbara still wants him back. Martha Keller’s beautifully restrained performance steals the film, and the scene in which Barbara meets her husband’s new love interest was priceless.

Linda is very focused on her career, and long-time lover Gigi (Joaquim de Almeida) is forced to take a back seat–often with humiliating results. Eventually Linda is forced to make some painful choices.

The fifth woman in the group is Chloe, Linda’s make-up artist. She’s a quiet, solitary, self-contained woman with a haunted past.

Although this is a film built around the relationships between five women, the film’s main focus is the desires women have and how those desires sometimes conflict and must be suspended or replaced. One of the issues explored by the film is what happens when women step out of the roles ascribed to them by their family members–for example, when Barbara becomes ill, her illness is largely ignored by her children who want her to remain in the eternal mother role–untouched by disease or any personal problems of her own. In contrast to Barbara is Branca. She’s abdicated from her parental role, dumping her daughter onto her aging parents.

Women is not one of those awful ‘sisterhood’ films; it’s a much smarter film than that. Does sisterhood exist in the film? Absolutely, but these women don’t end up hugging each other and exchanging giggly naughty confidences. These five women ultimately have their own paths to follow and their own choices to make. Set in Lisbon, Women is a drama from Portuguese director Luis Galvao Teles.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, Portugal

Pact of Silence (2003)

Don’t think of this as a French film

Gerard Depardieu stars in a large number of films–some are superb, and some are stinkers. This film falls in the latter category.

In Pact of Silence, Depardieu plays Joachim–a Jesuit priest/doctor who is both concerned and fascinated by the illness of a young Carmelite nun, Sarah, who is under his care. A medical examination, a stay in the hospital, and tests reveal that there is no underlying cause for the acute abdominal pains that cause her to collapse. Joachim believes that Sarah’s physical illness is rooted in psychological causes. The mother superior, Mother Emmanuelle (Carmen Maura) whisks Sarah out of the hospital before Joachim can confirm his suspicions.

Joachim is compelled to look further into the case, and after a little detective work, he discovers that Sarah’s identical twin sister, Gaelle, is in prison for a murder she committed as a child. There seems to be some evidence–at least on the part of the Carmelite nuns–to disguise Sarah’s past. Joachim decides to track down Gaelle and see if he can get some answers.

Where to start…

Joachim is supposed to be so obsessed with these twin sisters that he commits severe violations in order to discover the truth. Depardieu is a phenomenal actor, but his heart was not in this role. He didn’t seem obsessed. He seemed mildly interested, and that just about describes my relationship with the film too. The whole grabby love story was preposterous.

I can’t reveal too much of the plot, but there were some RAGING inconsistencies here and many loose ends that were simply never addressed. What is the terrible thing in Joachim’s past? (A couple of flashbacks aren’t enough, sorry, in light of his later actions). Why did the Carmelite nuns go to such lengths to ward off Joachim? (Unfortunately, you’ll have to see the film to know what I’m talking about.) And then the entire denouement was totally unbelievable and the film slid into cheesy plot manipulations to tie everything together. The one saving grace to this film was actress Elodie Bouchez who played Gaelle/Sarah. Her performance was quite touching.

If you take away the French accents and subtitles, what is left is a cheesy plot full of holes. Yes, there were elements of psychic phenomenon–all that twin stuff-but bottom line, if this was an American film it would be laughed off the video shelves.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, France, Gerard Depardieu

Common Wealth (2000)

 “I could go around the world until I get dizzy.”

common-wealthThe Spanish comedy Common Wealth (La Comunidad) from director Alex de la Iglesia is for those who like their comedy dark, energetic, full of surprises and packed with peculiar characters. Think Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown meets Shallow Grave with an element of Neighbours thrown in for good measure. It’s brilliant, extremely funny, and also somewhat macabre.

Savvy Madrid Real estate agent Julia (Carmen Maura) has to sell a beautiful, posh apartment. It’s the sort of place that she and her mismatched husband could never afford. She invites him over to whoop it up and suggests that they “savagely desecrate this holy waterbed” little realizing that enjoying material comforts they can never afford is something he’d rather not be exposed to. Julia’s relationship with her bouncer husband captures the essence and pettiness of domestic squabbles that are laced with subtle yet bitter recriminations based on financial disappointments. While romping around, Julia makes the horrible discovery that the apartment upstairs contains the rotting corpse of a reclusive millionaire. When she uncovers the dead man’s secret stash of money, Julia realizes (the hard way) that the apartment building’s tenants consider the money theirs and will stop at nothing to get the money away from her.

Common Wealth contains the sort of wild, frenetic energy that’s reminiscent of Almodovar, and the film’s clever plot twists keep the viewer engaged to the very end. The first half of the film is much stronger (and funnier) than the second half, but it’s a powerfully funny, engaging package. The story explores the voracious nature of human greed, and how seemingly ‘normal’ people revert to their uglier, baser instincts when a large sum of money is at stake. The comedy element here is fresh and just unhinged enough to be absolutely marvelous. Julia is a splendid creation–she’s hard-edged, ambitious, and crafty, and all these characteristics rise to the surface under adversity. One of the best characters is the middle-aged son of one of the tenants who sports a Darth Vader costume to become a Vader Voyeur. When discussing Julia, he suggests “we should take her to the dark side.” If you enjoy this film, I also recommend Crimen Perfecto (aka Crimen Ferpecto). In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, Comedy, Spain

The Promise (La Promesa) 2004

 “Your place is in the home, and even then you can’t cope.”

promiseIn the Spanish gothic thriller, The Promise (AKA La Promesa) Gregoria (Carmen Maura) is an unhappy dumpy housewife. Her husband continually berates her for her sterility, and beats her when she gets on his nerves. And she gets on his nerves quite a bit by constantly praying and mumbling under her breath to various saints. While the husband seems to find fault in Gregoria’s functionality (“All you do is clean and pray”), it’s obvious that Gregoria is a deeply troubled woman–at one point, she stands transfixed in the marketplace believing that she’s watching long-dead fish gasping for air. One day, Gregoria’s husband pushes her too far, and she hits the road with a suitcase and heads towards a village she heard about. She changes her name to Celia and gets a job as a nanny to an extremely wealthy couple who have one small, silent child named Daniel. Apparently, nannies don’t stay long with the family, so mother, Dorita (Ana Fernandez) is eager to give the reference-less Celia the job–no questions asked. Husband Leandro (Evaristo Calvo), on the other hand, sniffs a rat, and remains suspicious of Celia.

As time goes on, Leandro’s suspicions are proved correct. Celia/Gregoria becomes increasingly more attached to the boy, and she begins to see him as threatened by his father. It occurs to her that she should “liberate” Dorita as a fellow abused wife. Celia slides into even deeper religious ferocity–visiting a local religious shrine, hallucinating and hearing voices in her head.

The set-up (the loony nanny left in charge of an innocent, defenseless child) is a familiar one, but director Hector Carre handles the material nicely. Right from the beginning of the film, odd things occur, and it’s never quite clear exactly what is real and what is Celia’s superstitious imagination. This is an atmospheric film, and camera shots capitalize on the peculiarity of Celia’s twisted vision. A thread of black humour runs through the story and this serves to alleviate some of the tension. The film’s conclusion is a little odd, but it is great fun to see Carmen Maura in the role of Celia. Maura is excellent at portraying the neurotic woman (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), but in The Promise Maura isn’t just neurotic–she’s sinister. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, Spain