After a commendable début (Los debutantes), writer-director Andrés Waissbluth has surprisingly made only one other feature at the time of posting – an offbeat threesome romance among Chilean immigrants in Barcelona. It’s a shame he hasn’t made more, considering the directors out there peddling their trade with lesser talent and yet making an occasional success of it.
“199 recetas para ser feliz” [Eng. Title: 199 Tips to be Happy] begins with an interesting premise. During an unusually hot summer in Barcelona, Helena (Tamara Garea) and husband Tomás (Pablo Macaya) have just been informed of the death of Helena’s brother Milo back in Chile, but they’re unable to attend the funeral due to an emergency. One day and out of the blue, Milo’s erstwhile girlfriend Sandra (Andrea García-Huidobro) – whom they’d never met before, comes knocking at their door. The couple welcome Sandra to stay with them until she sorts herself out, but the unexpected union will bring to fore latent feelings and insecurities in the couple’s lives.
Helena strikes an immediate rapport with Sandra in wanting to cherish her beloved brother’s memory through her, and perhaps in hoping to find remnants of him in the girl he loved, but more importantly to bereave and come to terms with his death. Tomás is unhappy with his job marketing books for a publishing firm. He isn’t sure what he wants to do next, and has withdrawn into a shell that even Helena finds hard to get through. Whilst promoting his friend’s latest book (the same as the film’s title), Tomás finds in Sandra a welcome if dangerous distraction from his job – he spends his days following her through galleries and alleyways of Barcelona, observing from distance her casual flings, and soon starts to fancy her. Meanwhile Helena’s affection for Sandra also develops into sexual desire, which she’ll begin to openly display even in Tomás’ presence.
But Sandra – far from being a passive recipient of the couple’s attentions, actually provokes and encourages their lustful feelings, and through their embraces, hopes to find what she’d earlier found in Milo. The film, while reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema in the way a stranger’s entry into a household upsets its balance, doesn’t go deep enough in articulating the emotional aspect of the love triangle. It is slow-moving in places because of this failure – there is good screenplay but inadequate characterisation. Due to this, the provocative ending too has a hollow ring to it, but it could’ve turned out better with a bit more effort from the cast.
The Nudity: Tamara Garea, Andrea García-Huidobro, Alana Vandeweghe, and Pablo Macaya
The film justifiably carries with it an erotically-charged undercurrent, also echoed in the heat and sweat of the summer, and helped by a fan that frequently keeps breaking down. Tamara Garea, as Helena, wears minimal clothing throughout the film and also poses nude for an art class in two scenes. Apart from a couple of beach sequences, Andrea García-Huidobro – playing Sandra, and the object of the couple’s desires, appears nude during three sex scenes; with a casual lover at a cheap hotel, in a lesbian encounter with Helena, and later during a ménage à trois with Helena and Tomás, which also shows Pablo Macaya briefly in the nude. Alana Vandeweghe plays a nude model sitting in one of the art classes that Sandra attends.