Among the things that first drew me to Spanish cinema was its unconventional, imaginative, and almost irreverent approach to film-narrative. Directors from Arrabal to Almodóvar, and Buñuel to Luna, especially during their ‘underground’ years, have extended frontiers so successfully that many of their ground-breaking and often shocking narratives have even gained mainstream acceptance over the years. Lluís Miñarro is a reassuring reminder that there are still uninhibited film-makers around in today’s commercialised film scene, amidst all the spending cuts in the arts.
His recent film, “Stella cadente” [Eng. Title: Falling Star] is a stylised account of the short reign of Amadeus I (from Italy’s House of Savoy), as King of late nineteenth century Spain, against the backdrop of a rising tide of republicanism within the country.
The film begins with Amadeo (Àlex Brendemühl) arriving in Spain to take over the throne abdicated by his predecessor. His high-minded hopes of reforming and developing Spain are dashed in the very first meeting he has with his counsel, and he’ll soon discover that he could only stay king by remaining a puppet in the hands of the establishment.
When Queen Maria Victòria (Bárbara Lennie) joins him later, she’s dismayed and disappointed at Amadeo’s descent into disillusionment and boredom, occasionally manifesting in delusions, due to his inability to exercise regal mandate in a fractious country on the verge of revolution. The focus of the film will eventually switch to sexual shenanigans among Amadeo’s staff in the palace, and his rather peculiar relationship with them.
To say the film isn’t a straightforward biopic is understatement; Miñarro’s absurdist film is tinged with bizarre fantasies and deadpan humour, with scenes ranging from the sublimely surreal to the cheekily profane. Here a bejewelled tortoise and peacock stroll through palace grounds where the king’s assistant also masturbates with a watermelon and a female cook enjoys being watched while having sex; a king’s intellectual musings can apparently go hand-in-hand with his sexual anxieties.
Miñarro is obviously having a ball with this mischievous film by mixing up exquisite production design, thoughtful camera work, and fine performances with misplaced locations and anachronistic pop music. After all, here was a king, out of place, and lost in time, and the narrative aptly conveys the displacement. The film has a heart, but doesn’t open itself too readily. It is also a style of film-making that won’t appeal to impatient audiences – you really have to watch the film on the director’s own terms. If you’re up for it, it will be rewarding for sure. Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Lola Dueñas, Lorenzo Balducci, and Àlex Batllori
In the role of the king’s cook, Lola Dueñas appears nude in three scenes; the first is simply for Amadeo’s viewing pleasure, the second while making love to him, and later while falteringly reading questions from a book wearing nothing but the king’s jacket. Oh, and watch out for her neat little trick with a party popper – even if it happens outside the main film. Lorenzo Balducci appears nude while performing sex in explicit detail with a watermelon, and in a later scene is shown alongside Àlex Batllori in what can only be assumed as prelude to sex.