Between cigarettes at her kitchen table, Carmina tells her story. We learn that she has been struggling to support her family, as the tavern has been burgled many times but the insurance company has never delivered. Desperate, Carmina decides to fake the perfect break-in to ensure an insurance payout. While Carmina’s plan unfolds, she reflects on the pile of crazy, tragic and comic situations that have piled up along the way.
SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: Despite her best efforts to upset, even enrage, those around her, the central figure in Paco Leon’s offbeat charmer emerges as memorable and, ultimately, kind of adorable. If nothing else, this should make dinners in the Leon household a little more pleasant than usual: the central figure is his mother, and on more than one occasion he paints her in a less than flattering light.
Attentive audiences will draw some heartfelt melancholy from Carmina’s journey
Carmina or Blow Up is apparently based largely on the real life exploits of the fiery matriarch who, rather incredibly, plays herself in the film. It’s a cool spin that adds comic weight to the offbeat and often vulgar exploits of Carmina, but one which is perhaps best taken with an ironic pinch of salt. If she actually did all the things the film claims, Carmina or Blow Up amounts to an admission of some significant breaches of the law.
Carmina Barrios owns a tavern in Seville, along with her ailing, eccentric husband Antonio (Paco Casaus) and her beautiful but coarse and wayward daughter, Maria (Maria Leon). We meet the chain-smoking 50-something in her kitchen early one morning; she settles into her favourite chair and addresses the camera, recounting formative moments from her past. She recalls: how her grandfather familiarised her with the rituals of smoking; the once beautiful woman whose advanced age and weight gain make looking in the mirror a trial; and a husband who is 'a prize idiot" but whom she could never live without.
These scenes are lovely, especially as they are staged in the presence of her beloved pet goat. They seem partly scripted, partly stream-of-consciousness, but are always sweet and insightful. It is a technique Leon, an established actor making his feature directorial debut, employs with other key characters and it works particularly well. (The film endeared itself to Spain’s domestic audiences, which turned it into a homegrown blockbuster; a sequel is in development.)
Beyond her kitchen, Carmina has a tougher time dealing with a world not always enamoured with her coarseness and OTT personality. A taxi driver is struck speechless when she attacks two petty thieves stealing her car; a debt collector flees from her tavern when a recovery measure goes insanely off the rails. Adding to the tension is her commitment to making her goddaughter’s communion a wondrous event, even if the tavern’s takings don’t allow for the extravagance she envisions.
Attentive audiences will draw some heartfelt melancholy from Carmina’s journey; she is an ageing figure who struggles with dreams and ambitions that are fading daily. Some audiences will have to endure a few crude – though, admittedly, hilarious – occurrences during that journey; those familiar with the term 'shart’ will know what to expect, given one scene portrays the downside of allowing your laughter to get the better of you inside an enclosed space.
At a scant 70 minutes, it is not expected that Carmina or Blow Up will resonate much, but it does. The novelty of experiencing a (mostly) real-life story through the eyes of a (very) real personality ultimately pays off very nicely.