Smoke and Mirrors
Any film from Alberto Rodríguez the director of La Isla Minima/Marshland and Grupo 7 is going to attract attention and El hombre de las mil caras (The Man with a Thousand Faces)/Smoke and Mirrors with its ingenious scams and multiple striking locations looks promising. However, for those not familiar with the real life scandal centering on bald & bearded Luis Roldán the first civilian controller of the Guardia Civil, this one often plays like an Ocean’s Eleven rip off.
We start with pilot, the busy José Coronado (also in Boy Missing, To Steal from a Thief and The Invisible Guest) telling the viewer about his disgruntled master spy chum Francisco Paesa (Eduard Fernández) who never got paid by the government high ups for his major strikes against ETA. Confusingly Coronado receives the key to a Paris Gare du Nord locker the significance of which we will only discover in the finale.
Fernández is recruited by ex-Guardia Civil commander Carlos Santos to get him away with his billions of pesetas in graft, now complicated by the fact that his elegant squeeze is pregnant.
There follows a complex worldwide pursuit by the authorities determined to bring back Santos, which involves Fernández shifting his fortune round the globe while he’s hidden in a Paris garret. Fernández’s associates include an alcoholic who has a vision of a live deer in an airport lounge and Paris merchants rung in as a menacing underworld network.
The coup involves having Fernández law school trained niece physically moving the loot one floor in a Singapore banking complex, briefcase by brief case full, which makes it untraceable. The film’s major innovation is showing the strain on the fraudsters. “In three years you’ll be playing with your child in the park” and close up hand shake.
Even though he’s beaten the game and moved his bag and Modigliani back into his wife’s home, Fernández can’t stop and has to take the government down and go deep undercover till the statute of limitations expires. Convincing staging, personable cast but conviction in short supply.
Arturo Ruiz Serrano Serrano’s debut as feature director El destierro/The Exile (which he also wrote and scored) is a movie of high seriousness from the first shot where bespectacled young Joan Carles Suau walks into focus against the monochrome winter mountain snowscape.
In the Spanish Civil War he’s been allocated, to replace a dead soldier, one of a series of remote Nationalist mountain stone watch-huts. Fresh from the Seminary, Suau doesn’t have much in common with coarse fellow sentry Eric Francés who abuses him for oversleeping and letting their fire go out and is derisive about Suau’s "priest books". Unmotivated Francés could just as easily have found himself on the Republican side, like his brothers in Madrid.
However out getting water Francés discovers wounded girl Monika Kowalska who he brings back to the hut, not unlike the animals in his snares, to add to their comfort, tying her up behind the hut to keep her out of sight of donkey sergeant Chani Martín bringing supplies.
Her papers reveal her to be a “roja” foreign fighter. We get their back stories, Suau sexually abused, Monika,educated and aware (but not able to cook), and Francés, desperate for news of his family on the other side of the war.
All their values of are challenged. The bleak monochrome winter terrain changes to spring in step with their own personal thaw - get it! The ending is brutal.
Established editor Teresa Font, with a Jamon Jamon and couple of de la Iglesias on her resumé is the most familiar name on the credits. This one is more Film Festival material than the kind of popular cinema that makes up the body of the current Spanish Film Festival. It could have come from a different planet, let alone a different country.
An imposing achievement, stern & thoughtful, The Exile is also approachable and involving. The hits just keep coming.