¡Viva! 22 #1: Carmina y amén (Spain 2014)

Maria Leon and her mother Carmina Barrios as 'Maria' and 'Carmina'.

Maria León and her mother Carmina Barrios as ‘Maria’ and ‘Carmina’.

Carmina and amen‘ is a title that plays on/with several aspects of this very funny black comedy rooted in the working-class culture of Sevilla. On one level it refers to the way in which the matriarch Carmina is decisive about what she has to do. And when she’s done it, that’s the end of it. At one point she says to her daughter “I never lie, when I say something, it becomes true”. The central example of this is how Carmina handles the sudden death of her husband Antonio. He dies on a Saturday morning, but his wages bonus is due on Monday morning – so the death won’t be reported until after the bonus has been collected. Since Carmina lives in a tenement building with lots of neighbours popping in, keeping Antonio’s large corpse from the public gaze is the basis for the perfect farce plot.

HOME’s brochure promises us that the film will be enjoyed by anybody familiar with UK TV series such as The Royle Family or Shameless. I think that’s right and Mrs Brown’s Boys might be a more recent model of the same kind of thing. It’s also the case that Carmina y amén resembles a TV sitcom in its use of Carmina’s flat as its central location with only three short trips out to other locations. According to this useful Hollywood Reporter review, the film is a follow-up to Carmina or Blow Up (Spain 2012). Both films were written and directed by Paco León and feature his mother Carmina Barrios and his sister Maria León and like those British sitcoms there is a real sense of a tightly-knit family within a similarly tight working-class community. The HR reviewer Jonathan Holland raises the important question as to whether or not this is one of those ‘Spanish comedies’ that don’t travel, especially to the UK. He also notes that there are resemblances to the early comedies of Pedro Almodóvar such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) – the film that in many ways ‘broke’ Almodóvar in the UK. I agree, and on that basis Carmina y amén might work with careful handling – certainly a large ¡Viva! audience laughed heartily. But Holland also points out that there are jokes that only Spanish audiences will get.

It seems to me that what is recognisable to any audience is the excellent observation of tight communities and the real star quality of Carmina Barrios and her portrayal of the matriarch who knows best. There is a hint of ‘gypsy magic’ – the detailed mise en scène of the kitchen includes a witch doll and a publication about ‘African spirituality’, and at one point Carmina utilises a ‘spell’. But otherwise a group of women sit around with coffee and biscuits discussing sex while the now declared dead husband lies in repose. Sounds familiar? There is a twist to the story – though I think most audiences will have seen it coming. Holland thinks it ‘over sentimental’ but I think it works to make for a satisfying black comedy. I hope more people get to see the film and it plays again at ¡Viva! on Saturday 16th at 17.50.

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