Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Spain/France/United Kingdom, 2002. Antena 3 Televisión, Eurimages, Lolafilms, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Pyramide-Orsans Productions, Shanghai Spell, TeleMadrid, Vía Digital. Screenplay by Fernando Trueba, based on the novel by Juan Marse. Cinematography by Jose Luis Lopez-Linares. Produced by Andrés Vicente Gómez, Cristina Huete. Music by Antoine Duhamel. Production Design by Salvador Perra. Costume Design by Lala Huete. Film Editing by Carmen Frias.
A young boy in Franco’s Spain spends his days as companion to the batty old Captain who wanders about town spewing his nutty opinions to anyone who will listen. The rest of the time the boy keeps company with the local beauty’s daughter, a young woman who is afflicted with tuberculosis. The boy has a talent for drawing and has been asked to do the young woman’s portrait, and while working on this he and the girl listen to her mother’s house guest tell about her father’s exploits in Shanghai. Although this film has a lot going for it, including beautiful period detail and a top-flight cast, it never really comes together. Fernando Fernán Gómez is delightful as the old man, but he was an old mentor to a child in Butterfly and that film was much better. The Shanghai story line, while beautifully shot, is somewhat confusing and never particularly engaging, while the rest is much more interesting but fails to amount to anything in the end. If it’s worth watching for any reason it’s the performance by Fernando Tielve as the young boy; he’s got sensitivity and charisma in spades.