Ocho apellidos vascos (international title: Spanish affair), directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro (2014)
Score: Generic entertainment product.
It feels really weird to write this review in English but let’s do it for the sake of consistency.
Ocho apellidos vascos (which means literally Eight Basque family names) is the second highest-grossing film in the history of Spanish cinema and the most watched, with 6,5 million tickets sold (just for reference, there are a bit over 46 million of us). Why did Spaniards like it so much? My verdict is that, like everywhere else, people like to laugh, enjoy love stories and dislike having to think too much about what they’re watching.
The comedy and storytelling rely heavily on clichés, and even the most novice moviegoer noticed it. The clichés the movie exploits are national/cultural, in this case Basque and Andalusian, and are exploited quite shamelessly. Curiously enough, for the middle half of the movie, they work quite well.
Amaia (Clara Lago), the Basque girl, has been dumped by her fiancé right before their wedding, so her friends take her out to Sevilla for a hen’s night. In a tablao (a bar where people dance flamenco) she meets Rafa, who makes some (bad) jokes about Basques. They yell at each other, they have a drunken fight, and they fall into each other’s arms. The following day Amaia heads back home but leaves behind her purse. Rafa tries to contact her by calling her dad and when there is no answer he decides to take a bus all the way to Donosti, a 900 km ride, to give her back her purse and declare his undying love. What he doesn’t know is that she was estranged with her dad, who doesn’t know about her little girl being dumped at the altar, and thinks the call was an invitation from his daughter to have a relationship again. So Amaia has no romantic interest in Rafa, but wants him to pretend he’s her fiancé in front of her dad, who’s coming from sea for a few days.
The film up to this point is quite dull up and promises nearly zero fun, but then the character of Koldo (Karra Elejalde) shows up. His sole presence is hilarious and he is not only Basque in real life, he feels Basque. Dani Rovira is quite funny as well but Karra Elejalde steals the show, while the others are insipid. Elejalde manages to be side-splitting both by his body language, intonation, accent and the mongrel Basque words he throws into his Spanish speech, which make up quite amusing results. The best jokes of the movie are in this section where they have to trick Koldo into believing that the stereotypical, thick-accented Sevilian young man is actually a pureblood Basque nationalistic activist, everything spiced with screwball comedy and truckload upon truckload of stereotypes. It’s hard to explain the cultural gap if you don’t know the two places but imagine a guy from Sicily trying to pose as a Milanese, or a Texan as a Canadian, and delighting us with the most pathetic impression of what one sounds like.
But once after ***SPOILERS AHEAD, or not if you have ever watched a romantic comedy*** Koldo discovers the truth about Rafa and he can go home and forget about this whole adventure, the film becomes stale, rancid, and you want to punch the shit out of the screen. Of course, later on the protagonists decide they’re in love with each other after all and want to start an affair, in the worst tradition of Notting Hill or Four weddings and a funeral. Sappy as eating marmalade from the pot with a spoon, and quite as interesting.
So is it worth watching? If you’re Spanish you probably have already. If you’re not, you might get lost in translation. It’s not a particularly good movie but I have to admit the middle part was funny and kept me entertained. In fact it was quite bold in the sense that it took it to the extreme where Rafa is always in the verge of getting caught and gets away with it in an hilarious way. But apart from that is a quite bland and generic product.