Jim Welsh | Radio Summerhall Arts
Director Cesc Gay has been given the tag of “the Spanish Woody Allen” and his latest feature does indeed point up comparisons in their work. Five stories with, on the face of it, nothing to connect them bar the protagonists’ desire to tell their tales with a somewhat dubious honesty. That, and the fact that most of the scenarios take place in bars and cafes of Barcelona that you want to visit as soon as you are walked in the door.
The title, Stories Not to Be Told, proves to be good advice given to us in a gentle and witty manner. Gay’s terrific ensemble cast rise as one to give top quality performances that find the best in their characters, imbuing them with endearing qualities even while concocting stories that may or may not bear some semblance of truth. Were it nothing else, the film would provide an excellent showcase for Spanish acting talent.
But over the piece it is much more than that. The first of these cautionary tales finds Laura (Ana Castillo) shutting neighbour Alex (Chino Dann) in her bathroom on the return of her partner Raul (Javier Rey) in spite of the fact that there has nothing been going on between them. Her increasingly desperate attempts to keep them apart give rise to utter confusion and moments of farce, not to mention the bewilderment of both males. Whatever was going on in Laura’s head (wish fulfilment perhaps?) has led her to make a hole for herself and keep digging, when the truth would have been the easy answer.
The second episode sees Luis (Ales Brendemuhl) visiting his friends Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) and Ana (Maria Leon). Luis, at the urging of Ana, has a one night stand with Sandra (Eva Reyes) to help him get over his ex-wife. The difficulty for Carlos and Ana is not what they have said, but what is left unsaid while unsure as to how to break a particular piece of news to Luis. Keeping quiet turns out to be the best option, and this story ends well for all concerned.
The central piece takes place at an audition where three actresses compete for a part in a film. This is perhaps the strongest element of the film and plays on the fact that all three are playing a part of their own that they present to the others as reality. Angela (Nora Navas) gives the others a highly detailed account of her daring sexual encounters with a handsome married man which proves to be fictional; Bianca (Maribel Verdu) claims to have left the cast of a soap to avoid typecasting while in fact it was due to a sex tape scandal; Carol (Alexandra Jiminez) is not being considered for the part but instead is auditioning as stand-in for the actress as a nude body double. They happily bitch about each other, but leave together, arranging to meet for lunch the following week. If not exactly sisters-in-arms, at least they have their own sort of friendship.
The fourth tale is by far the weakest, by reason of being the most obvious. Writer Andres (Jose Coronado) is desperately trying to salvage his relationship with his considerably younger girlfriend Barbara (Alejandra Onieva) but he comes across as both pathetic and unbelievable. I suspect everyone in the audience must have been silently willing him to shut up and retain at least some dignity. This is the only section of the film where we are not really made to care about the success or failure of the participants.
The final story brings the film back to top form Edu (Quim Gutierrez) ignores the sound advice of his buddy Jota (Brays Efe) and confesses a brief affair that he had a few years ago to his wife Sofia (Veronica Echegui). He’s sure she already knew, and indeed he’s right. However, he would have been better to take Jota’s advice and let that sleeping dog lie, for Sofia not only confirms that she knew, but goes on to detail the encounters she had with workmates in the wake of her discovery.
This too, concludes happily, and it can be said that if not all these tales have a happy ending, then they do at least lead to outcomes that are for the best for all concerned.
A film of great charm, carefully directed and scripted and beautifully shot. Recommended viewing.
Odeon Cinema Edinburgh 14th October