Family dysfunction and social ineptitude have been occupying the minds of European directors rather consistently the last couple of years. With a wave of films that delved deep into social issues that Hollywood either tries to avoid or ends up sugar-coating Spain, France, Italy, Russia, and most recently Scandinavia have produced some very intriguing productions. Among the most notable films lately are the Spanish drama Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes) by Iciar Bollain; the Danish/Swedish/Norwegian film Arven (The Inheritance) by Per Fly; the Danish Dogme drama Elsker Dig for Evigt (Open Hearts) by Susanne Bier; the French comedy Comme Une Image (Look at Me) by Agnes Jaoui as well as Rois et Reine (Kings and Queens) by Arnaud Desplechin; the German drama Gegen Die Wand (Head On) by the Turkish director Fatih Akin; the Italian drama Non ti Muovere (Don't Move) by Sergio Castellitto; and the Russian drama Vozvrashecheniye (The Return) by Andrei Zvyangintsev among many others.
The latest production from Spain to join this formidable group of films is Cesc Gay's part-comedy-part-drama En La Cuidad (In the City). Focusing on the lives of a group of thirty-something Spaniards living in Barcelona Gay's film is very much an exploration of a generation trapped somewhere between a staggering economic reality and a world of romance in a city where nothing is what it seems.
In En La Cuidad a couple (Monica Lopez and Chisco Amado) is on the verge of an emotional collapse; Sofia (Maria Pujalte) is proud of her countless rendezvous' yet she appears to be the only one to truly believe them; a gorgeous waitress (Leonor Watling) is looking for passion and romance where there is none; a lost teacher (Alex Brendemuhl) is trying to convince himself that a passionate love affair with a 16-year-old student is what his life has been missing; and a group of friends is desperately looking to reconnect. So, this is the main foundation of a film that attempts to grapple so many issues at the same time that I think it ultimately makes it very hard for the viewer to become part of the story.
Sesc Gay, the director of the now much admired Nico and Dani, certainly has a great deal of knowledge when it comes to human relations. I just don't quite think that En La Cuidad has enough of it to support a story line that has too many sub plots. On a positive side I liked the realness of the story and the simple way the main characters spoke to each other. I wish the viewer was given more time to spend with each of the characters and perhaps be more intimate with them. As it is, however, the pace of En La Cuidad feels a bit too rushed which is likely to leave the viewer rather indifferent.
In 2003 En La Cuidad was nominated with three Goya Awards (the Spanish Oscars) for Best Director (Cesc Gay), Best Screenplay (Tomas Aragay and Cesc Gay), and Best Supporting Actress (Monica Lopez) and won the Best Supporting Actor Award for Eduard Fernandez.
How Does the Film Look?
I have some bad and some good news regarding this DVD presentation. Let's start with the good news: the DVD of En La Cuidad offers some fine details, good colors, well-balanced contrast, and in general clean film print. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TV's. The bad news is that Wolfe Video have used a direct PAL-NTSC port of the Spanish release (a nicely done 2DVD set with optional English subtitles) which automatically results in the presence of the so-called "ghosting". In addition, the English subtitles are burnt-it and could not be removed if the viewer wishes to see the film in Spanish-only.
How Does the Disc Sound?
I don't really have much to write about here as this is mostly a dialog-driven production. Wolfe-Video have provided a generally acceptable Spanish 2.0 mix though I am sure they could have opted for at least a 5.1 mix.
The original trailer for En La Cuidad and a gallery of trailers for other upcoming Wolfe Video productions.
En La Cuidad is not a bad film, on the contrary it has a lot to offer to its viewers. However given the rather low budget Cesc Gay had to operate with the film in my opinion never really reached its potential. Nevertheless if you are curious to see what life looks and feels like in modern-day Barcelona I would give this film a try. If you are not the most patient of viewers I would suggest you look elsewhere.
I would like to share a few thoughts about Wolfe Video and their presentation of this DVD (and other foreign films) from their catalog. I really think that they have an interesting look at international cinema and tend to acquire the rights for some of the more talked-about recent productions. But why not go the extra step and provide a DVD package that would not only appeal to those interested in a particular foreign film but even to those that wish to explore but are unwilling to do so due to average presentation. How hard could it be to provide a proper transfer (not a PAL to NTSC port) of foreign films, after all many of the potential clients that this film is targeted to would not settle for such a presentation (including the burnt-in subs). I only mention this as I think that Wolfe Films could very well be a company that would attract serious foreign film aficionados. Not drive them away.