Spanish newcomer Pablo Berger's debut feature takes a premise that could have come straight from one of the old-school porn loops it so warmly spoofs and turns it into a fun, slightly kinky look at a sillier aspect of a very naughty industry. Madrid, the early '70s: Franco has been in power for more than 30 years, but the times are nevertheless a-changin',...read more
Spanish newcomer Pablo Berger's debut feature takes a premise that could have come straight from one of the old-school porn loops it so warmly spoofs and turns it into a fun, slightly kinky look at a sillier aspect of a very naughty industry. Madrid, the early '70s: Franco has been in power for more than 30 years, but the times are nevertheless a-changin', particularly in the encyclopedia business. Television ads and monthly installment mail-order plans seem the way of the future, and poor door-to-door salesmen like milquetoast Alfredo (Javier Camara) will soon go the way of the dinosaur. When Alfredo's boss, Don Carlos (Juan Diego), invites him and his wife, Carmen (Candela Pena), to a company retreat for a major announcement, Alfredo fully expects to be fired. But Don Carlos announces instead that Montoya Publishing is about to branch out in a profitable new direction, and he wants Alfredo and Carmen to play a major part in its bold new future. It seems the Copenhagen Institute of Sex Research has been having enormous success with "The World Audiovisual Encyclopedia of Reproduction," a series of Super-8 movies that arrives in subscribers' mailboxes each month in plain brown-paper wrappers. The Institute wants to expand its highly scientific inquiry into the mating habits of the typical Spaniard, and Don Carlos wants Alfredo and Carmen to film their own sex flicks at 50,000 pesetas a pop. He's even invited Ingmar Bergman's former assistant to show them how it's done. Alfredo immediately refuses, but relents after Carmen reminds him that they're about to be evicted for nonpayment of rent; Carmen also desperately wants to start a family. Soon Alfredo and Carmen are not only copulating on camera but making good money doing it; Carmen becomes a big sex symbol in Scandinavia, while Alfredo discovers he has a flair for this whole filmmaking thing. After catching THE SEVENTH SEAL on television, he decides it's time he attempts his first feature something Bergmanesque, with a grieving widow and a mysterious stranger in a black cape. Don Carlos enthusiastically agrees to produce, but he has little interest in art films, unless "art" means everyone eventually gets naked. Raunchy without ever devolving into flat-out prurience, Berger's oddly sweet comedy perfectly captures the naivete of the era and the unexpected wholesomeness of some of its adult entertainment. The costumes are perfect, the towering back-combed hair and cascading falls are spot on, and "Torremolinos 73," the black-and-white film Alfredo winds up shooting in an empty hotel on the Spanish coast, is the best spoof of a European art film since the 1968 Bergman satire "De Duva." Right on.
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