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Weakness of the Bolshevik, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/12/04 05:12:29

"An impeccable character study that turns a sleazy banker into a hero."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If the comments heard among the audience after this impressive Spanish feature are anything to go by, screenwriter Lorenzo Silva and director Manuel Martin Cuenca have achieved the near impossible. They’ve created are a man with few redeeming features, plunging headlong into the sort of nasty mid-life situation that one would normally be pilloried for, and yet they have managed to make him so real, so true, and so entirely human, that the audience is not only prepared to forgive him his sins, but even empathize with him as they would a good old fashioned hero. The fact that he gets to this level of audience appreciation despite being a right bastard, not to mention a borderline pedophile, makes this achievement all the more worthy of applause.

Pablo (the square jawed Luis Tostar) is a mean guy. He works for a bank, has the million dollar office view, an attractive secretary who wants him but bad, and an very tasty auditor has just entered his workplace and all but offered herself as his sexual slave. But Pablo isn’t having any of that. He’s just angry at the world, and he’s certainly not about to give some woman the keys to his heart.

Until he has a car accident, and decides to spend a few weeks making the life of the other party involved in the accident, hell. See, she has a younger sister (Maria Valverde). A fifteen-year-old sister at that. And she’s… well, how can I put this delicately?

She’s hot.

Yes, I know, it’s icky. But Pablo is obsessed from the first sight of this girl and begins to form a friendship with her that has all the underpinnings of a great romance – she makes him laugh, she turns him on, she knows how to tease him and keep him wanting more, and she’s essentially his intellectual equal. The only catch is, it’s not legal to take things beyond the friendship stage.

But right when you think that The Weakness of the Bolshevik is going to go down a tacky Lolita-esque road, it refuses to. And that’s where the film not only gets very interesting, but he performances get huge, and the audience gets teased every bit as well as Pablo does. We’re waiting for that first kiss. It has to come and we’re going to be grossed out by it, but it fails to happen for scene after scene. In fact, it soon becomes clear that Pablo has grander motives here. Could it be that he actually appreciates her for the smart, funny, confident woman she (almost) is?

For a first time directorial outing, Manuel Martin Cuenca has certainly shown a deft touch when it comes to story and character, taking a story that could easily have gone into disgusting territory, or smarmy ‘ick’ romance, and instead painted a portrait of a man who simply never grew up and finds solace in the snicker of a girl who shares his intellectual sensibilities.

As the young temptress, Maria Valverde is as assured as a young Natalie Portman, and as attractive as Kelly McDonald, who some may recall as Ewan McGregor’s unintentional crib raid on Trainspotting. In fact, Valverde and McDonald are the spiting image of one another. Surprisingly, Valverde never put a foot wrong, as she never gets sleazy, never gives her character away, and has you second guessing her from the first moment she’s on screen. Credit the writing, based on the screenwriter’s original novel of the same name, but you can’t give anyone more credit than the director, who gives his cast ample time to win our hearts.

The Weakness of the Bolshevik admittedly never rises to magnificent heights. It doesn’t spike on you and have you thinking to yourself “I really must own this movie.” Rather, it’s a production that continually makes you think to yourself, “It’s going to screw up… here comes the glaring mistake. Wait! Damn, this thing just refuses to put a foot wrong,” as it navigates the toughest path in film – that of the man who should know better, and the girl who does.

If it were a little quicker paced and the ending wasn’t so tacked on, I might have called it a masterpiece. As it is, this is very much an accomplished film from a director who will go on to huge things, starring a pair of actors who know exactly how to do their jobs. Fantastic filmmaking.

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