Torremolinos 73

Torremolinos 73 (2003)

Torremolinos 73 first published by Movie Gazette

Madrid, 1973. Carmen Lopez (Candela Peña) longs to have a baby, but her devoted husband Alfredo (Javier Cámara) is no longer able to shift the military encyclopædias that he sells door-to-door, and cannot even afford the rent let alone the upkeep of a child. So when Alfredo’s boss (Don Carlos) invites the couple to take part in “a new product, revolutionary and secret”, making films of themselves engaged in sex for a supposed ‘World Audiovisual Encyclopædia of Reproduction’ published in Copenhagen, their initial reservations are quickly swept aside by the money on offer – and neither quite realises that their home movies are part of the Scandinavian porn industry. Yet Carmen’s passion for getting pregnant leads to her discovery that they are unable to conceive children together, while Alfredo’s new-found passion for filmmaking leads him to conceive a screenplay for an ambitious arthouse feature to be entitled Torremolinos 73 (soon to be redubbed Adventures of a Horny Woman) – and they are both destined to learn that the realisation of their life’s dreams will require painful compromises.

When Erik (Tom Jacobsen), one-time collaborator with Ingmar Bergman turned full-time pornographer, gives Alfredo a crash course in filmmaking, he arouses the naïve salesman’s enthusiasm by citing Bergman’s precept that cinema is “the reflection of reality”. Sure enough, in his feature debut Torremolinos 73, writer/director Pablo Berger has crafted a film-within-a-film that reflects not only the conflicts between his characters’ fantasies and realities, but also the reality of a Spain which, after several decades of puritanical conservatism and censorship under General Franco, was about to undergo its own “revolutionary” shift towards new social and sexual freedoms. In their rapid forward thrust into consumerism, creativity and (something like) liberation, Carmen and Alfredo offer an entertainingly tacky enactment of Spain’s modernisation, when a land long left barren by the Falangist régime was suddenly being made fertile again for new seed, even at the cost of a certain innocence.

In different ways, both Berger’s film, and Alfredo’s within it, combine the high aesthetics of European arthouse with the artlessness of the Seventies sex comedy – a strange marriage, partly affectionate homage and partly wicked parody, that produces even stranger, yet undoubtedly appealing, bastard offspring. Alfredo’s attempt to import Bergman-esque gravity to a contemporary Spanish seaside setting results in the hilariously absurd images of Death playing chess on a paddleboat or gripping his scythe on a funfair roller coaster – while conversely the gratuitous hardcore scene which Alfredo is forced to append to his magnum opus takes on an intensity beyond anything normally found in Danish porn. Add to this Berger’s accurate yet unobtrusive sensitivity to the browns and beiges of the period, the touching performances of the leads, and some very black humour, and you have bittersweet boogie nights in a Spain on the cusp of change.

strap: Pablo Berger’s metacinematic merger of arthouse and porn finds sex, death and bittersweet boogie nights at the end of the Franco era.

Anton Bitel