Synopsis: On a hot summer day in a vacant Madrid during a period of social and political transition in Spain, Miguel (José Sacristan), a feared and respected journalist, sets up a meeting with Ãngela (Maria Valverde), a young journalism student, in a friend’s studio. His intentions are clearly sexual; hers are less clear. Chance events force them together for more time than they would have chosen: locked in a bathroom, naked, without the possibility of escape.
Removed from the outside world, the pair, who represent polarized generations, are pitted in an uneven duel involving age, intellect, ambition and experience. The political and social context of the period provides the back ground to the power shifts that continually take place between them over twenty-four hours.
Madrid, 1987 8.0
eyelights: its core concept. the dialogues.
eyesores: the unequal opportunity nudity.
“Meeting someone you admire is the first step to not admiring them anymore.”
‘Madrid, 1987’ is the story of Miguel, an aging newspaper columnist, and Ángela, a young journalism student, who get trapped in a bathroom together after he lures her to his painter friend’s apartment in a vain attempt to seduce her. With no way out and days until his friend is scheduled to return, all they have is one another.
But is there room enough in this hot, cramped space for this ill-fitting pair – especially with only a damp towel between them?
‘Madrid, 1987’ is the perfect example of a two-person picture that works, that could equally translate to the stage and be equally engaging. It’s entirely centered on the dialogues,which range from revealing intimate tidbits to engrossing exchanges about sex, politics, writing, literature, cinema, age and many other topics.
Although Miguel is hardly a savoury character, an arrogant, entitled minor celebrity, and Ángela is more timid and submissive, these interactions are enough to keep the picture moving – despite the fact that these two people can go nowhere for almost an hour’s time. We may not fall in love with either of them, but they are captivating enough.
It’s an odd dynamic: when Miguel isn’t authoritatively spewing verbal diarrhea, he is making unsubtle attempts at sleeping with Ángela – through blunt remarks, obvious manipulations and even faux self-pitying. He doesn’t even try to be seductive, or complimentary in any fashion – he just tries to overpower her will.
I was particularly stunned with his first attempt, when they arrive at the apartment and they kiss: he gives up almost as soon as they start, telling her that he no longer has any interest in kissing – that this is something that is best appreciated by the young, when it’s still fresh and new. That, at his age, he just wants to get to business.
Ouch. Not only is that a put off, but I find that entirely farcical: from my perspective, if there’s anything that never gets old, it’s kissing. And it’s the most arousing thing in the world, when you allow yourself to immerse yourself in it. I couldn’t believe that she would allow herself to be cajoled given such coarse maneuvers.
I also found the way that they were locked in the bathroom just this side of believable. After Miguel casually smears a little bit of paint on her naked breasts and back, Ángela decides to go take a shower to clean up. He eventually follows her, stripping first before entering the bathroom and closing the door behind him.
I honestly have no idea how else this could have been set up, truth be told. How could the director put two naked people in a bathroom together against their will? I think that he did the best he could, and he does make a point of having Ángela ask Miguel why he closed the door – to which he responds that he doesn’t know.
It sort of makes sense, even if it feels a bit contrived. And, to be honest, it didn’t bother me much because at least it gave me the other 2/3 of the picture – which couldn’t have happened otherwise. Because of this, I was able to accept or disregard the awkwardness of that moment. The end justifies the means, I suppose.
What’s interesting is that the film isn’t meant to be sexy. And I like that. I love that the characters are naked, as intimate as two people could possibly be together, without having sex. The point is to strip the characters of all of their pretenses, and force them to reveal themselves to each other.
It doesn’t mean that there isn’t some subtle sexiness. For starters, María Valverde, who plays Ángela, has the most beautiful upper lip. She was lovely to look at. And there were a few moments when she would climb on the toilet to look outside the ventilation grate and call out for help. Her outstretched legs were a nice sight.
But it was subtle enough that it wasn’t meant to titillate. In fact, all the nudity eventually becomes commonplace and one becomes inured to it. Which is perfectly fine by me: I love looking at naked bodies for great lengths – especially when one of them is youthful, toned, and pristine. Titillating or not, it’s pleasing to the eye.
My only issue is that we don”t see Miguel fully naked, aside for one brief moment. Look, I’m not saying I particularly wanted to see him naked; he’s not an especially attractive man. However, if she is to be fully nude in many instances, it seems only fair that he would be as well. After all, they’re both naked.
Watching this movie, it brought back many fond memories of being naked with another person (thankfully not in the same context), and of how wonderful it is to just be with that person, completely vulnerable, with no barriers separating you. Although ‘Madrid, 1987’ isn’t just about intimacy this is what it conjured up in me.
I would highly recommend this motion picture to anyone who enjoys two-character plays, sharp dialogue and who aren’t at all uncomfortable with the human body being presented in an unobjectified way for great lengths of time. ‘Madrid, 1987’ is an unusual film and combination of elements, but it gels very well.
Date of viewing: July 4, 2014