job, Marcela keeps her pregnancy hidden and starts caring for a
bedridden old man, Amador (Celso Bugallo), with whom she forms an unlikely bond.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: There’s an awful lot of sorrow, suffering and tears in Spanish writer/director Fernando León De Aranoa’s melodrama set amid Madrid’s under-class.
Amador isn’t much fun for audiences except, perhaps, for those who enjoy wallowing in miserabalist cinema, leavened in this instance by flashes of black humour and ending on a note of optimism.
The slender narrative is stretched thinly over 105 minutes, with frequent longueurs and only fleeting moments of pathos as it deals with the themes of poverty, loneliness, faith, alienation and death.
The protagonist Marcela (Peruvian actress Magaly Solier), an immigrant from Latin America, lives in a grotty apartment with her boorish boyfriend Nelson (Pietro Sibille), who scavenges a living by stealing and selling flowers. Marcela is on the point of leaving Nelson when she discovers she’s pregnant but for reasons that are never clear she conceals her pregnancy. She thinks he doesn’t want a kid; he insists he does, but not for a year or two until they’re financially secure.
When the desperately poor couple need to buy a new refrigerator to store the flowers, Marcela gets a job caring for a friend’s ailing, bedridden father Amador (Celso Bugallo).
Gradually a bond forms between the young woman and the curmudgeonly but kindly old man, who wiles away his time on jigsaw puzzles which, he tells her, are a metaphor for life: all she needs to do is put the pieces together. 'Nobody gave me any pieces," she laments.
Injecting some levity into the film’s otherwise dour mood, Fanny de Castro plays Puri, a matronly-looking hooker who calls on Amador once a week to provide hand relief. Her raunchy talk and earthy approach to life are amusing.
Marcela’s woes intensify when she returns home early and catches Nelson with another woman in what seems to be suspicious circumstances, but curiously De Aranoa opts not to develop that scene and thus loses an opportunity to amp up the dramatic volume.
When Amador dies, Marcela bizarrely decides not to tell anyone, including his absent daughter, merely covering his body with a sheet, but here the plot becomes illogical. It is almost believable that she’d hide the fact of his demise for a while so she can keep earning money—but impossible to accept that his rotting corpse wouldn’t stink to high heaven within a few days in the middle of summer, despite her liberal use of air-freshener and an electric fan.
She spends days in his apartment, toiling over that jigsaw puzzle. The devoutly religious Marcela’s conversations with a priest as they discuss the dear departed are also tinged with dark humour.
Thereafter the suspense revolves chiefly around how Marcela will resolve the problems of the deceased Amador and her pregnancy. The first takes another odd twist while the second is ambiguous but offers her the prospect of a better life.
Solier is a gifted actress as she demonstrated in Altiplano (which premiered at the 2009 Sydney festival) and The Milk of Sorrow. But here her character is so passive, fearful and melancholy it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for her, or to understand the motives for her strange decisions.