Friday June 4, 1999
Love stories with supernatural elements are a dime a dozen, but "Twice Upon a Yesterday," which marks the feature debuts of director Maria Ripoll and writer Rafa Russo, brings an element of fantasy to bear upon real-life emotional predicaments with notable insight and imagination. The result is a picture of charm and substance.
Had the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie not already taken it, "Notting Hill" could just as easily have been the title of this engaging picture, as it also takes place in that charming section of London that recalls Greenwich Village. Douglas Henshall's Victor, a shaggy, struggling stage actor and bookstore clerk, lives there with his lover of six years, Sylvia (Lena Headey), a beautiful psychologist.
While rehearsing a play Victor falls hard and unexpectedly for a young actress (Heather Weeks) also in the cast. In a burst of honesty Victor not only confesses his infidelity but also his love for the actress, destroying in an instant his relationship with the devastated Sylvia. Victor's life swiftly spins into a downward spiral as he realizes too late that Sylvia is his true love.
Literally ending up in a trash heap, he encounters a pair of otherworldly garbage collectors (Gustavo Salmeron, Eusebio Lazaro), who may incarnate the souls of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and who offer him that magical opportunity we have all craved for one reason or another: to turn back the clock and do things differently. "Twice" so far is autobiographical, with Spanish novelist-songwriter Russo drawing upon his own romantic mistake made while living in London. At this point he begins to speculate what might happen if his hero were given a second chance.
Armed with foreknowledge, Victor believes that by not confessing to Sylvia and by bringing his affair to an abrupt halt that he can continue his relationship with her on an even more solid basis, now that he's in a unique position of appreciating her all the more for having lived through losing her. But what will that great unknown, the future, bring? And what of Sylvia's encounter with the attractive Dave (Mark Strong)? Or of Victor's with the lovely Louise (Penelope Cruz)?
There is an undeniable evening-the-score quality to Russo's script, yet it takes the larger view: Since lovers can scarcely count on falling out of love simultaneously, they might well consider the wisdom of Cervantes expressed in "Don Quixote": "Don't look for this year's birds in last year's nest."
So assured is Ripoll's direction you would never suspect that this film is a first feature. A veteran of Spanish TV, Ripoll trained at AFI and USC. There is an effortlessness to both the polished "Twice" and its performances, all of which have considerable wit and charm. Headey and Cruz are radiant, and although Henshall is no Hugh Grant when it comes to looks, he has considerable charisma and intensity.
Charlotte Coleman is featured as Sylvia's best friend, an outspoken, even interfering type, who has never thought Victor was remotely good enough for Sylvia. Elizabeth McGovern is a sympathetic bartender who seems to possess the same special powers as those garbage collectors. For all the seriousness "Twice Upon a Yesterday" takes with romantic love it has plenty of humor and a consistent light touch.
Twice Upon a Yesterday, 1999. R, for language and for a scene of sexuality. A Trimark Pictures and Paragon Entertainment Corp. & Handmade Films presentation in association with CLT-UFA International, Mandarin Films and Wild Rose Productions of an Esicma production. Director Maria Ripoll. Producer Juan Gordon. Executive producers Jon Slan and Gareth Jones. Screenplay by Rafa Russo. Cinematographer Javier Salmones. Editor Nacho Ruiz-Capillas. Music Luis Mendo & Bernardo Fuster and Angel Illarramendi. Costumes John Krausa. Production designer Grant Hicks. Art director Grant Armstrong. Set decorator Neesh Ruben. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Douglas Henshall as Victor Bukowski. Lena Headey as Sylvia Weld. Penelope Cruz as Louise. Mark Strong as Dave Summers. Elizabeth McGovern as Diane.