20 April 2002 | khatcher-2
An excellent cast gives us a satisfying period-piece story
Starting out from a novel by Juan Marsé, Catalonian novelist enjoying a certain popularity in Spain, Fernando Trueba has carried out a magnificent transposition for the screen, being responsible both for the dialogues and of course the directing of `El Embrujo de Shanghai'. Having already been responsible for films which have made their mark - `Belle Époque', `Two Much', `La Niña de Tus Ojos' (qv) and `Calle 54' (qv), being the most representative - it was to be expected, or at least hoped, that `El Embrujo de Shanghai' would continue the trend. Especially as the cast could hardly be better.
You will not be disappointed: with the new generation of Spanish directors producing some good work in the last twenty years or so, we can consider Trueba as one of those heading the list. He has a good eye and a steady hand for telling his stories, however varied they may be. Added to that, Ariadna Gil, who must by now be seriously considered as the most gifted actress in present-day Spanish film-making, takes on a double role in this film with perfect adaptability. Fernando Fernán Gómez is, as is to be expected in our most veteran actor now that Paco Rabal is no longer with us, just naturally wonderful in the role of an old discontent, fending off enemies like a metaphorical Quixote charging windmills. Rosá María Sardá is just right in her so exactly right Barcelonese part; both Eduard Fernández and Jorge Sanz carry out their jobs very well, though the latter has a relatively small, but important, part in the film. Antonio Resines plays a very sober and convincing role.
Full marks to Fernando Tielve as the fourteen year old through whose eyes the story is told; great playing by this youngster and captures the camera exceedingly well. Aida Folch as the sick fifteen year old, suffering tuberculosis, was mostly pretty good with just a couple of weak points, but on the whole her performance is not marred. Hope to see more of these youngsters as they grow up...
However, when Ariadna Gil is in a film it becomes a little difficult objectively focussing on anyone or anything else. Ever since `Belle Époque' passing through `Malena es un nombre de Tango' (qv), `Tranvía a la Malvarrosa', and the late Ricardo Franco's `Lágrimas Negras' (qv), among others, it should be apparent that this actress is capable of any role you may suggest: indeed, she is already known as the `actress for impossible parts'. Her tour de force is, perhaps, most notable in Ricardo Franco's film.
Antoine Duhamel's music is fine - as is to be expected now that he has worked with Trueba in a number of films since `Belle Époque'. Really worthy of mention are the excellent studio-built scenes, lending real authenticity to the lower class suburbs of Barcelona in 1949, in this case Gracia and its Plaza de Rovira, complete with a number 39 period-piece tram, and the various street scenes of Shanghai. José L. López Linares' photography lives up to the occasion and seems to enjoy lingering over some of the street scenes, such as Cinema posters and fruit stalls.
This is a good piece, well away from the run of the mill, painstakingly knitting together reality and fantasy, fusing them into one, and thus turns out satisfying intellectually as well as visually. Definitely well above a seven out of ten on my scale.