The Queen of Spain
Fernando Trueba, director and writer
Starring: Penelope Cruz (Macarena Granada), Antonio Resines (Blas Fontiveros), Neus Asensi (Lucia Gandia), Ana Belen (Ana), Chino Darin (Leo), Arturo Ripstein (Sam Spiegelman), Mandy Patinkin (Jordan Berman), Cary Elwes (Gary Jones), Clive Revill (John Scott), Loles Leon (Trini Morenos)
Back in the 20th century—the date was 1998—director and writer Fernando Trueba brilliantly evoked the Nazis’ support of the Franco side of the Spanish Civil War with The Girl of your Dreams, which told of the making of a silly musical in Fascist Germany starring a woman, Macarena Grande, whom Joseph Goebbels adored. The film won seven Goyas (the Spanish Oscars) and helped to build the international career of its leading actress, Penelope Cruz.
With The Queen of Spain, Trueba has fashioned a sequel 18 years later. Macarena is back and so is Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines) but their lives have taken different paths since 1938. Cruz’s Macarena has become a huge Hollywood star, like Sophia Loren or Ingrid Bergman. Not Blas, who disappeared and is presumed dead, until he shows up at the beginning of the film, with a tragic tale of years spent in a concentration camp, followed by a decade working at small jobs as he tried to come to terms with his life.
It’s now the mid-‘50s, when Franco began to court Hollywood to make pictures in his still Fascist but certainly anti-Communist Spain. Macarena has agreed to make a film back home though she despises Franco. Hearing of her return, Blas appears on set where former actors and key crewmembers, most of whom appeared in Girl of your Dreams, greet him warmly.
The Hollywood producer, played by Mexico’s legendary director Arturo Ripstein, quickly employs Blas as the head of the second unit. All appears to be fine until Blas is arrested by Franco’s Falangists and sent to another prison camp. When she hears word of where Blas has been sent, Macarena springs into action and starts to develop a plan for his escape.
Trueba’s intent isn’t to make only a political melodrama. Like Girl of your Dreams, he wants to make a comic film-within-a-film and also poke fun at the pretentious international cinema community of the time. So we have the spectacle of the still gorgeous Cruz acting like a cougar to seduce Leo, a good-looking young man, who is working on the set. That sequence of events is funny/peculiar until it suddenly emerges that Leo is secretly anti-Fascist and is able to figure out how to rescue Blas from the prison camp.
Europeans are famous for mixing comedy and romance and sex and drama into fine films. Truffaut did it and so did his mentor, Jean Renoir. The list is long and luminous—and includes the young Trueba. But with The Queen of Spain, he hasn’t been able to resolve the tension between creating a heartfelt political film and the decision to emphasize the comic elements of the story.
The result is a film with great elements that never cohere. The Queen of Spain features a fine performance by Penelope Cruz and really good ones by a host of character actors. But the message is blurred and so is the film’s drama.
Worth seeing? Yes, but the film is disappointing.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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