Long before Antonio Banderas became acquainted to English-speaking audiences in films like The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, Interview With a Vampire, Desperado and Zorro, he was a well-known actor in his native Spain. Pedro Almodóvar's second feature, Labyrinth of Passion (1982) was also his second film, and he subsequently appeared in other Almodóvar films such as Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
There are numerous nods to Almodóvar in the film: at one point we see an overhead shot of Victoria Abril in a bath. Abril and Banderas both starred in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, in which Abril was depicted in a bath pleasuring herself with a toy diver. Other Almodóvar references include depictions of blood, the prominence of shades of red, and especially the colours of red and green appearing together.
Summer Rain is Banderas' second feature; the first was Crazy in Alabama, 1999, starring his wife, Melanie Griffith. The Spanish title actually translates as The English Road, and refers to the coming-of-age theme of leaving one's hometown for the wide world in order to find oneself and one's place in the world. It's a theme similar to Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
Montiel's film is a gritty realist urban drama set in Astoria, NYC while Summer Rain is a semi-surreal story bathed in lush hues in Málaga, Banderas' home town in regional Spain. Interestingly, both these films depict selective recollection of childhood memories, but in vastly different ways. AGTRYS is dark and uses a hand-held camera to depict the shaky nature of memory. Banderas uses boldly colourful symbolism and dream-like sequences for his depictions.
Summer Rain is based on El camino de los ingleses by Antonio Soler, who also adapted the novel for the film. While the story is fictitious, it appears that Banderas related it to his own life story; the film is set in the late '70s when Banderas left Málaga to pursue a career in Madrid. While the film looks beautiful, I had problems with the narrative.
I sensed this was an important film, perhaps even a cathartic film for Banderas. There were ample opportunities to emotionally manipulate the audience that thankfully he avoided. It may even be important or cathartic for others, but while I admire its sincerity and its artistry, it didn't really engage me emotionally. It couldn't suck me into its dream-like world the way it clearly tried to. I'm not sure that I can pinpoint why that is so.
Bear in mind that Banderas and I were born in the same year, and I also left my home town of Melbourne in 1979 to go to university in Adelaide (I lasted one trimester). This was the beginning of a long and strange journey of my own, but enough about me. The acting in the film was fine and the characterisations were all satisfactory. Somehow the film lacked a certain coherence that could take me on its journey. At 118 minutes running time, I also found it too long.
To Banderas' credit, he didn't take the safe route with the film. He took risks and he has put his own mark on a well-known theme without resorting to genre. The film explores universal themes but with cultural specifics that I find fascinating - I have a soft spot for Spanish cinema - certainly a refreshing break from Hollywood stereotypes. But somehow, the film as a whole didn't grab me.
Summer Rain screens at:
- Palace Westgarth, Thursday May 17, 6.30pm
- Palace Como, Friday May 18, 9.00pm
Official Selection Sundance Film Festival 2007,
Official Selection Berlin International Film Festival
Winner Label Europa Cinema (best European film in Panorama Section of Berlin)
Nominated for 2007 Goya for best new actor and best adapted screenplay
Melbourne Spanish Film Festival / Official website / IMDB