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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Wait for Me’ Pokes Fun at Franco

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Wait for Me in Heaven,” a kind of “Kagemusha” played for laughs, imagines what might have happened if the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco had had a double. There are lots of ways to go with such a premise, and while director Antonio Mercero and his co-writers are witty and ingenious, they head in an entirely unexpected direction.

Starting out on a note of pitch-black humor for which the Spanish are justly famous, they shaft the self-aggrandizing pomposity of Franco and his slavish followers in ways that bring to mind Bunuel and Almodovar, only to suggest in the end that Franco might have been a human being after all, enslaved by the ceremonies and responsibilities of high office.

It’s a very sentimental view of exalted rulers, perpetuated in fairy tales and in novels and films. Mercero doesn’t go this far, but in the uninhibited, outspoken and highly critical Spanish cinema of today, it is amazing to hear uttered a kind word for the longtime dictator.

Even more amazing is that the film, despite its radical shift in tone, manages to be fun anyway and concludes on a note of reconciliation with the past that surely not everyone will be prepared to swallow. But then, “Wait for Me in Heaven,” for all its satire, is no art film but a popular entertainment aiming at a wide audience.

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The film (at the Monica 4-Plex) opens in the ‘40s. Alonso Paulino (Jose Soriano) and his wife, Emilia (Chus Lampreave), are a middle-aged couple who run an orthopedic-supply store in Madrid. Despite Alonso’s occasionally outspoken criticism of Franco, they live a life of pleasant routines and avoid politics.

While Emilia holds her weekly seances, Alonso allows himself a regular evening at a bordello, where one night, without explanation, he is seized by twin government agents. Imprisoned in the cellar of Franco’s residence, he is gradually transformed into an exact double of the dictator, right down to the high pitch of his voice and his choppy gestures under the direction of the bombastic minister of propaganda (Jose Sazatornil).

Not for quite some time are we--or Alonso--allowed to know the purpose the double is to serve. Similarly, it takes a while for the understandably stunned and frightened Alonso, who proves to be a very adept pupil, to occasionally turn his predicament to his advantage. How is he to let Emilia, who is led to believe he is dead, know he is still alive? Is Franco, for that matter, still alive? How is Mercero going to bring his story to a satisfactory end? On the whole Mercero’s answers play very well.

The veteran Soriano, portly but nimble, is a constant pleasure, a seasoned comedian with razor-sharp timing and a master at mimicry. So is Chus Lampreave, who has the high forehead of a Spanish infanta as painted by Goya, and who is well-known for her appearances in Almodovar films. “Wait for Me in Heaven,” which takes its title from a popular tune beloved by Alonso and Emilia, is a winner.

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‘Wait for Me in Heaven’ (‘Epereame en el Cielo’)

Jose Soriano: Alsono Paulino

Chus Lampreave: Emilia

Jose Sazatornil: Minister of Propaganda

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An MD Wax/Courier Films release B.M.G. with the collaboration of Television Espanola (TVE, SA.). Director Antonio Mercero. Executive producer Jose M. Calleja. Screenplay Horacio Valcarel, Roman Gubern & Mercero. Cinematographer Manuel Rojas. Editor Rosa G. Salgado. Costumes Gumersindo Andres. Music Carmelo A. Bernaola. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for adult themes and situations).


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