Strong women form the backbone of "Border Café," and The American Cinematheque's Recent Spanish Cinema series returns from its year off.
Juan José Ballesta and Alba Rodríguez play Spanish youths making a brief escape from authority figures. (Picture This! Entertainment)
Reyhan (Fereshteh Sadr Orfani) is newly widowed and would like to mourn her husband. Her brother-in-law, Nasser (Parviz Parastoei), will have none of it. He expects her to adhere to the regional custom by marrying him and allowing him to care for her and her two young daughters. Reyhan, however, hails from another area and wants to remain independent. When Nasser threatens to cut off her finances, she reopens her husband's café, located on a busy highway.
Serving as the establishment's cook, Reyhan recruits Oujan, a former employee, to help run things, and the restaurant becomes a great success, particularly with the multinational truckers who pass through. Reyhan's life becomes complicated in emotional ways she is unprepared to deal with. Zakario (Nikos Papadopoulos), a Greek driver, falls in love with Reyhan after she prepares homemade moussaka for him. She befriends a young Russian refugee trying to make her way to Italy, and the two bond despite their language barrier.
Nasser is infuriated on multiple levels. He's stung by Reyhan's rejection of him and his cultural proprieties and feels that her working is bringing shame on the family. Perhaps even more damaging is that the popularity of Reyhan's cooking is hurting his own restaurant's business. Although Nasser does everything within his power to deter Reyhan, it is ultimately Islamic law that proves to be the immoveable force in her path. Nevertheless, she remains resolute in pursuing her objective.
Recent Spanish film series returns
The American Cinematheque's Recent Spanish Cinema series returns after a one-year hiatus. The 12th edition offers eight eclectic features, opening tonight with Fernando León de Aranoa's "Princesses," a drama about the friendship between two women in Madrid who happen to be prostitutes.
In director Marcelo Piñeyro's psychological drama "The Method," seven people compete for a single position at a large corporation. The director ("Burnt Money") and co-screenwriter Mateo Gil ("The Sea Inside," "Open Your Eyes") adapted a play by Jordi Galcerán Ferrer that might be described as "The Apprentice" as written by Agatha Christie.
The job-seekers aren't murdered, but they are knocked out of the running with the coldhearted efficiency that pervades the type of corporate culture in which human resources are used up as quickly as paper clips. The seven are assembled in a conference room with a keyboard and monitor for each. As they await the arrival of a company representative, they begin to dissect what this interview process might be all about.
The monitors give them prompts indicating that one of them is a company mole, impersonating an interviewee to better observe the others as they navigate tests — group exercises apparently designed to emphasize the skills required in big business and eliminate the weakest link. The interactions assess moral and humanistic traits, as well as how far each person is willing to go to win the job. Cleverly written, the film builds suspense as each round winnows one applicant from the competition. Though it sounds like reality television, the film is far more likely to appeal to fans of dramas such as "12 Angry Men."
Betraying its theatrical origins, the action is primarily confined to one room. Piñeyro, however, effectively utilizes the claustrophobic environment to heighten the tension. Context and anxiety are added by volatile street protests against the World Bank taking place outside.
A terrific ensemble — including Eduardo Noriega, Najwa Nimri, Eduard Fernández, Pablo Echarri, Ernesto Alterio, Natalia Verbeke, Adriana Ozores and Carmelo Gómez — makes the arguments and gamesmanship highly involving. The film succeeds as glossy entertainment and political polemic, satirizing globalization and pop culture on multiple levels.
Alberto Rodríguez's "Seven Virgins" is a fast-paced, keenly observed tale of youthful waywardness that takes its title from a belief that if you stare through two candles at your reflection in a mirror for one minute, you will see your future. Tano (Juan José Ballesta) is a 16-year-old doing time at a Seville reform school. Given a 48-hour pass to attend his brother's wedding, he immediately dives back into the life that likely led to his incarceration.
Tano and his friend Richi (Jesús Carroza) subsidize a wedding present by lifting a wallet at the local mall. Tano's girlfriend, Patri (Alba Rodríguez), lies to her mother and takes a bus so they can meet up, but she returns home the next morning after he spends the night partying with his old gang. Pumped with adrenaline and the fires of adolescence, Tano and Richi mock what they see as the banality of the working class and grasp at the materialistic pleasures more easily obtained through criminal behavior.
Despite glimmers of redemptive possibility, the film grows darker as we witness Tano and Richi's increasingly sociopathic behavior.
Also screening are Ventura Pons' "Wounded Animals," Montxo Armendáriz's "Obaba," Isabel Coixet's "The Secret Life of Words" — starring Sarah Polley, Tim Robbins and Javier Cámara — Santiago Tabernero's "Life in Color" and Patricia Ferreira's "Something to Remember Me By."
Screenings Sneak Preview
"Border Café": 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA
Info: (310) 206-FILM, www.cinema.ucla.edu
Recent Spanish Cinema
"Princesses": 7:30 tonight
"The Method" and "Seven Virgins": 7:30 p.m. Friday
"Wounded Animals": 5 p.m. Saturday
"Obaba" and "The Secret Life of Words": 7:30 p.m. Saturday
"Life in Color" and "Something to Remember Me By": 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Info: (323) 466-FILM, www.egyptiantheatre.com