FILM REVIEW: "Abracadabra" brings the laughs but misses the magic
It’s with little surprise that the country that brought us the siesta also has a thriving film industry, after all, what better way relax on a warm afternoon than with a movie and some wine. This flourishing ability to produce the perfect reason to knock off early is reflected in the success of Palace Cinemas' annual Spanish Film Festival, now entering its 21st year of giving us access to the best of Spanish cinema.
Making up the roster of Spanish and Spanish speaking films this year is Abracadabra from director Pablo Berger, which, despite its name, will do very little to satisfy those looking for impressive illusions. Instead, the film tells the story of Carmen (Maribel Verdú), who’s selfish and distant husband Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) becomes possessed by the spirit of a younger man that becomes enamoured with Carmen. While Carmen is initially hesitant about Carlos’ new-found love of cooking and vacuuming, the real conflict arises when more is revealed about who the spirit is and how its first owner left this world.
Though this may sound like a potential set up for taking a light-hearted look at gender roles or complacency in marriage, Abracadabra keeps things decidedly simple, instead favouring a slap-stick comedy approach with little subtext. As much as this provides laughs, the majority come in the first 15 minutes and the film’s urge to place a joke in every scene makes each feel like their own separate skits rather than parts of a cohesive product. As a result, things never really settle tonally for Abracadabra, as the audience is taken from changing soiled adult diapers to monkeys violently murdering an entire kitchen full of wait-staff. This is likely all part of the fun, and there were definitely those that were along for the ride in the cinema, but for the little more hard-core cinephiles it may not be the sort of experience you’re after.
Refreshingly, production loses the clinical veneer of Hollywood in favour of more realistic people and settings while maintaining its own visual style. The apartment that Carmen and Carlos occupy feels less like a set and more like you’ve just walked into it off the streets of Madrid. The colour pallet across the rest of the film remains vibrant, making good use of lighting as well. As for acting, it’s never easy to critique a film that’s been translated, so I won’t, although credit is due for de la Torre’s ability to switch between the normal and possessed Carlos.
For the right audience, Abracadabra will be a memorable and enjoyable break from life no matter what time you take it, providing guiltless laughs and a fun ride with a genuinely satisfying ending. For those chasing a bit more beefier content in their paella though, it might be worth taking a look at some other the other films in the program to scratch your Spanish cinema itch.