J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

AFI’s EU Showcase ’14: Falling Star

In 1870 the Duke of Aosta was elected King of Spain. If the very concept of electing a monarch sounds weird, just wait till you get a load of the surreal treatment he gets in Lluis Miñarro’s anti-bio-picture. His reign was short and there would not be a King Amadeo II succeeding him. Frankly, he never had a chance to govern in any meaningful way, as Miñarro makes crystal clear in the otherwise subjectively hallucinatory Falling Star (trailer here), which screens during the AFI’s 2014 EU Film Showcase.

Shortly after his parliamentary election, King Amadeo’s most influential supporter is assassinated. Essentially, he becomes a lame duck before he is even sworn in, without any pomp or circumstance. Arguably, the self-described “Republican King” could have been a reformist force. He even advocated the separation of church and state. However, the Republicans, Basques, and Catalans simply were not having any further king business. Without a constituency, King Amadeo becomes a veritable prisoner in his palace.

With only a handful of servants and a few duplicitous ministers for company, the King’s mind starts to wander a bit. He is plagued with bizarre nightmares and shares some odd moments with the lusty serving wench who wanders in and out of the picture. He perks up a little when his wife María Vittoria finally joins him, but the die is cast.

In terms of effectiveness, Amadeo is right down there with Pu Yi, but the Spanish monarchy would rebound following his abdication and a brief Republican interregnum. In fact, he seems ripe for critical reappraisal given his relative progressiveness, but that is not really Miñarro’s program. Instead, he engages in the sort of playful postmodern historical anachronisms that everyone hated in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

He also indulges in plenty of sexually charged flights of fantasy that emphasize bizarre imagery over explicit titillation (if you want to see a man having rough sex with a melon than you’re in business). In terms of visual composition and Mise en scène, Falling is not so very far removed from Albert Serra’s The Story of My Death, but Miñarro maintains a far punchier vibe (even though not a whole heck of a lot happens in an objective sense).

Resembling Franco Nero at the peak of his popularity, Àlex Brendemühl (chilling in The German Doctor) is terrific as King Amadeo, visibly choking down the anger and resentment of each new indignity. As María Vittoria, Bárbara Lennie’s regal screen presence and intriguing allure add a needed kick to the film, but none of the pervy servants are ever fleshed out (so to speak) into compelling characters.

Potential viewers should take note: Falling has a short but naughty stinger, so if you go, you might as well stay for the very end. On paper, it sounds like a wild romp, but the disparate elements never congeal into a satisfying whole. The one hundred eleven minute running time also feels all that and maybe more. Interesting as an opportunity to pop-psychoanalyze contemporary Spanish cultural currents, but a radically mixed bag as a movie-going experience, Falling Stars is only for self-selecting audiences when it screens tomorrow (12/19) and Sunday (12/21) as part of the AFI’s EU Film Showcase, outside of Washington, DC.

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