Director/writer David Trueba’s virtual two-hander (embittered writer Miguel, José Sacristán is appropriately lecherous, worldly and realistic as required; aspiring writer Ángela, Maria Valverde’s alluring physique is the perfect siren finally complemented in the later scenes with an intriguing table turn) would likely have more impact in the confines of a small theatre than the—at times—overwhelming canvas of the big screen.
The simple premise of the veteran columnist apparently being locked into his painter friend’s (Ramon Fontserè handles his few seconds on screen with quiet understatement) bathroom with his eyes wide open admirer for most of a sweltering weekend in Madrid (the outside heat becoming a plot point—the apartment building is otherwise vacant as Luis and his neighbours seek relief at the beach; the inner heat between the unlikely pair largely sputters before just a few minutes of glowing flame) serves Trueba more than his audience. Over the course of their confinement, the writer has his May-December subjects work through a host of issues (politics, sex, art, suicide…), yet Ángela’s complaint and Miguel’s admission that they are both in summer school rather than naked, nervous and curiously narcissistic (body and words, respectively) drags the film’s pace and motion into the realm of a pedantic bully pulpit.
The absence of music made perfect sense once the crisis had passed, wondrously relieved by guitar and cello (the two soloists underscoring the characters with aplomb even as the piano filled in the blanks).
By journey’s end, both souls will have a literal stain that may wash away with time and reveal old scars and new. Perhaps the scene du jour is the film-within-the-film, where Trueba’s metaphoric invention is wonderfully stoked by both of his stars as the single, empty frame (as bare as the unlikely couple) fills to overflowing with a tale of the boy who wouldn’t get out of bed.
Viewers who either aspire to become writers or fulfill their fantasies of bedding the unattainable will do well to follow Trueba’s/Miguel’s mantra: “trust your senses,” but be prepared to find your own way out of a locked chamber of personal desire/professional ambition. JWR