Thursday, December 08, 2011

Spanish Cinema Now ’11: Every Song Talks About Me

As the son of Fernando Trueba, the director of Calle 54 and Chico & Rita (both destined to be considered classic odes to Afro-Cuban Jazz) one would naturally have high hopes for Jonás Trueba’s feature directorial debut. You might also expect him to have good taste in music. Indeed, the younger Trueba certainly shows that much in Every Song Talks About Me (trailer here), an almost but not quite musical that screens this Saturday as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s long-running annual series, Spanish Cinema Now.

May you never meet a duller self-pitying sad sack than twenty-nothing Ramiro. He has just been dumped by his longtime and first-real girl friend Andrea, for reasons that are obvious if you take a look at his life. A kind of-sort of poet working in his uncle’s bookstore, Ramiro is having trouble getting on with things, which is periodically emphasized by a handful of morose original songs featured heard non-diegetically on the film’s soundtrack. However, Trueba also includes generous samples of Bills Evans from his Claus Ogerman sessions, which of course are the essence of sophistication.

Unfortunately, they are accompanying Ramiro as he tentatively pursues replacement romances and toys with the idea of teaching Spanish in Canada. Essentially, he becomes just as bored by his own subplots as the audience is. However, Trueba completes a Hail Mary pass in Song’s final scene, cranking up The Bad Plus’s cascading “Silence is the Question” (from their debut CD, These Are the Vistas) to create genuine excitement as Ramiro opens up his soul to Andrea. It is a hugely cinematic moment, musically and dramatically, demonstrating the potential power of licensed music when employed shrewdly. There is only of them in the picture though, courtesy of Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson, and Dave King.

To be fair, Bárabara Lennie is a bright, attractive screen presence as Andrea. It is easy to understand why she would give the mopey Ramiro the heave-ho. Oriol Vila pretty much nails the self-absorbed slacker vibe, but as our lovelorn protagonist, he just hits that same note over and over, up until the final parting shot.

Song is better than dozens of navel-gazing indie films released every month, like for instance the tiresome Answers to Nothing, but there are considerably richer films at this year’s Spanish Cinema Now that should be far higher priorities for viewers. Cinematographer Santiago Racaj evocatively captures both the romantic and hipster sides of Madrid and the licensed jazz soundtrack is pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, the inherent drama and characters are rather shop-worn. For Spanish cinema devotees, it screens this Saturday (12/10) and the following Wednesday (12/14) at the Walter Reade Theater.