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Barcelona (A Map)
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by Mel Valentin

"Stagey and ludicrous, this is one journey worth skipping."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In director Ventura Pons’ 18th film as a director, "Barcelona (un mapa)," an adaptation of Lluïsa Cunillé’s stage play, an elderly couple, Rosa (Núria Espert) and Ramon (Josep Maria Pou), ask their tenants to move out in less than a week’s time. Ramon, dying from cancer, and Rosa want to spend his last days alone. Over the course of a night trying to convince their three remaining tenants, Lola (Rosa Maria Sardà), David (Pablo Derqui), and Violeta (María Botto), and later, Rosa’s younger brother, Santi (Jordi Bosch), the conversations turn personal and confessional, and, in turn, revelations, some shocking, some ludicrous, are disclosed under the cover of night. Despite Pons’ efforts, however, "Barcelona (un mapa)" never breaks out of origins as a stage play and several ill-timed, badly conceived revelations push suspension of disbelief well past the breaking point.

Barcelona (un mapa) opens promisingly enough, with archival footage of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s forces occupying Barcelona and thus ending the Spanish Civil War in favor of Franco and his right-wing allies. Black-and-white footage of Barcelona quickly gives way to present-day Barcelona. Lola, a middle-aged French teacher, meets Ramon on her way in to the apartment building. Ramon follows Lola back to her apartment where he attempts to convince her to move out. Lola resists. She’s comfortable there and she’s uncertain as to whether she can find another apartment that will let her teach French. Moving in with her only relative, her son, isn’t an option (they’re restrained).

Rosa visits David, a 31-year old security guard estranged from his wife. David still dreams of playing professional soccer, but realizes the window of opportunity and his deteriorating skills make that prospect unlikely. Drowning in disappointment, David clings to the apartment and the comfort Rosa offers him as a surrogate mother, but Rosa refuses to budge from her request: David has to move within a week (or less than a week). A pattern begins to emerge: Ramon and Rosa’s tenants see themselves as lonely, isolated individuals, each one clinging to their relationship with Ramon and Rosa, not as landlords, but as friends (or something close to friends).

Barcelona (un mapa) switches back to Ramon, as he waits for Violeta, a pregnant restaurant cook facing life as a single mother, to return from her job. Ramon and Violeta seem to have shared, if not a physical intimacy, then an emotional one. Violeta is aware both of Ramon’s past (he worked at the Opera House that burned down more than ten years earlier), but his penchant for dressing up in costume. She pushes the taciturn Ramon to reveal more of his inner life to her even as she agrees to his demands that she move out, a difficult decision given her vulnerable emotional state and the prospect of caring for an infant by herself.

Rosa then calls her younger brother, Santi. Santi, a gay surgeon who picks up young men in less-than-reputable saunas, foregoes his latest tryst to see his sister. Santi isn’t a tenant, but there’s a sense of leave-taking over their meeting. Between reminiscing about their childhood, Rosa reveals that she’s kept a diary (actually numerous diaries) over the years and that he can read them, from the beginning. The diary naturally contains a family secret, something Santi has long suspected, but has refused to acknowledge as a possibility. Rosa later shares this revelation with Ramon as they prepare for bed and discuss their plans for the last few months of Ramon’s life.

Besides the obvious staginess (which Pons attempts to break up through quick-cut flashback that quickly become abrasive), "Barcelona (un mapa)" suffers from a shortage of believability. While it’s easy to believe that Ramon and Rosa could have developed emotionally intimate relationships with their tenants, it’s the revelations, the super-shocking personal and family secrets, each one less believable than the last, each one meant to elicit a gasp of surprise from moviegoers (instead of, presumably, yawns of recognition), that fatally undermines "Barcelona (un mapa)." When Rosa reveals her dark family secret, Ramon barely expresses surprise (as will audience members), but when Ramon reveals his last secret, a secret straight out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel or, to be less charitable, out of a Stephen King novel (circa 1983), Pons and, presumably, Cunillé before him, didn’t know where to take their characters or how to end "Barcelona (un mapa)" without leaving their audience simultaneously feeling cheated and dissatisfied.

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originally posted: 05/04/08 04:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ventura Pons

Written by
  Ventura Pons

  Núria Espert
  Josep Maria Pou
  Rosa Maria Sarda
  Jordi Bosch
  María Botto

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