Monday, September 18, 2017


Not too long ago, a film like this would have found, if not an audience, then critics and enthusiasts willing to champion it on a festival and preview circuit; that happened with director Pablo Berger's previous film Blancanieves, and this one could probably benefit from a few thoughtful eyes on it before being dropped in American theaters with little support. It's weirder and richer than it initially appears, though maybe not quite genius.

Instead, its Boston-area release was one screen at Boston Common, and though I admittedly chose an odd time - the 4:50pm show on Saturday is kind of a no-man's-land, too early to be part of anyone's evening plans but too late for matinee prices - I was kind of surprised that I was the only person there at the start. I'm not close to plugged-in to the Spanish-speaking community around here, so I've got no idea whether Sony Pictures International did much to promote this to that audience at all. I do know that I had no idea that the movie existed before a listing showed up on Fandango on Wednesday, and even then, I had to go digging to find the right Abracadabra because the listings there were a mess.

I don't know whether a more old-school rollout would have helped this; it kind of lands somewhere between the Spanish-language comedies distributed by Pantelion and something quirky or resonant enough to become a critical darling that drives people to the boutique houses. But I do think that it is notable as a European release where the distributor decided to bring it to North America relatively quickly, without the likes of Magnolia/Weinsteins/SPC/Cohen or the like waiting to see how it did in its home territory, bidding, and then trying to find a window and a release strategy for it. No big deal for a relatively small, average movie like this one, even if there probably are some folks who would be curious about the next thing from the guy who made that really neat movie five years ago. But I can't help but wonder a little bit whether this is the first of several things like this, and whether in a couple of years genre festivals will be struggling to find Spanish-language horror to program that hasn't already come and gone without people noticing, or if critics will flip out at the next Almodovar film not hitting art houses but instead flying under the radar because it plays day-and-date like other Latin films the way they freaked over Stephen Chow's The Mermaid.

It gives me a little pause - we seem to be trading curation for rapid access, especially as places like the AMC in Boston Common look for things to fill their screens, and I wonder if that's necessarily a great trade for all people, or how many folks are behind the curve on it, or just how regionalized it may make movie availability: I've pointed out that, for all Austin people make a great big deal about being a great movie town, they're never on the list for Chinese films opening day-and-date, but if this becomes the norm with Spanish/Latin films, they're probably more likely to get those than Boston is. Heck, it would be kind of funny to see French films open in Lewiston or Northern Maine but not much in other parts of the country, though I'd kind of like to see them.

The lesson, I guess, is that if you like movies, especially international film, you've got to pay a lot more attention to the week's new releases, because there's an ever-increasing chance that something which may interest you is playing in a venue that you don't immediately expect than there ever has been before.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

It's a bit strange when a filmmaker makes waves with something as distinctive as Blancanieves, Pablo Berger's 2012 silent version of Show White set in the world of 1920s bullfighting and then follows it up with something as superficially mainstream as Abracadabra, set in present-day Madrid and opening with gags that would seem right at home in much more conventional comedies. Eventually, one does see a similar sort of cock-eyed ambition, and while this follow-up isn't as obviously ambitious, it is quite impressive when looked at in total.

That obvious joke has Carlos Lopez (Antonio de la Torre) animatedly and angrily watching a Cup match between Madrid and Barcelona while his wife Carmen (Maribel Verdú) is putting a lot of effort into looking nice for her nephew's wedding. When they finally arrive, Carlos makes an ass of himself twice, the second time by ruining a hypnosis show put on by Carmen's cousin Pepe (José Mota). But something happens, and the next day, Carlos is making Carmen breakfast in bed, helping their daughter Toñi (Priscilla Delgado) with her geometry homework, and generally being friendly. A consultation with Pepe's mentor Dr. Fumetti (Josep Maria Pou) indicates that Carlos has been possessed, and they'll need to find something belonging to this "Tito" spirit to exorcise him. But, really, based on what we've seen of Carlos and Tito, why would she do that?

It's a clear, potentially-fun premise, one that seems like it should be a little more common than it actually is - it's an easy pitch and some actor gets a potentially fun double role out of it. Making it work as a story is a trickier thing, and Berger winds up waving away a lot of the nuts and bolts. Abracadabra is at its weakest when playing with this as a plot, full of "just because", things that don't quite fit, and things meant to kill time. It's a movie with a question rather than a story, and trips over that repeatedly.

Full review on EFC.

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