erasing clouds

The Erotic Universe of Pablo Berger’s Torremolinos 73

reviewed by anna battista

Spain, 1973. Alfredo López (Javier Cámara) and his wife Carmen (Candela Peña) live an ordinary existence: the former is a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman who doesn’t sell so many books, the latter a hairdresser who loses her job soon after the film starts. Their fortunes change though when Alfredo’s boss, Don Carlos (Juan Diego), invites them to a conference at a hotel where he informs them that, since sales are falling, his publishing company Montoya, will move into a different areas of business and produce “educational” films on the sexual habits of Spaniards for the Scandinavian market. The films will be distributed as part of a "Danish World Encyclopaedia of Reproduction". The few Montoya employees who take part in the meeting seem rather shocked about the "experiment", but since Alfredo and Carmen need the money, Carmen longs for a baby and the films will only be sold in Scandinavia, the couple agrees. A brief course in erotic film-making by a Danish director, a supposed assistant of Ingmar Bergman, follows and then Alfredo and Carmen can start shooting.

Their first films are rather amateurish and embarrassing, but, as time passes, they refine their style so well that, unbeknownst to them, Carmen becomes an erotic film star in Scandinavia. In the meantime, Alfredo, inspired by Ingmar Bergman, writes the screenplay for his own movie, Torremolinos 73, a film that will put at risk his relationship with Carmen, when producer Don Carlos, changes the script and decides to add a hardcore scene featuring Carmen and a Danish actor.

Torremolinos 73 is the first film by Pablo Berger - author of the shortcuts “Mama” (1988) and “Truth and Beauty”, which was also nominated for the film school Oscars. A Spanish-Danish co-production, Berger’s film is essentially a comedy, or rather a black comedy, since there are here and there moments of sadness and reflection for all the characters from the very start when we first meet Alfredo walking around a new housing estate, trying to sell his encyclopaedias with no success.

Both Javier Cámara (who also starred in Sex and Lucia by Julio Médem and Talk to Her by Pedro Almodóvar) and Candela Peña (Numbered Days by Imanol Uribe; Novios by Joaquín Oristrell; All About My Mother by Pedro Almodóvar; Take My Eyes by Icíar Bollaín) seem to have comedic abilities, but also a great talent for drama and are very convincing in their roles. The greatest comic bits in the film are when Alfredo first starts shooting the erotic films, but also during the making of his 'Torremolinos 73’: check out the scene in which Carmen plays chess with Death, a sort of Bergman shot, at least until the camera shows that they are playing chess while riding a pedalo out to sea.

Torremolinos 73 is a terrific film, a movie that proves that sex comedies can be funny and moving at the same time.

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