Staff Review/ A Puerta Fria

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Simran Hans reviews A puerta fria

Though it was the winner of both the Best Actor and the Critics’ Choice Award at the Malaga Spanish Film Festival 2012, A puerta fria (translated as “cold call”) is not a big film. Running a modest 75 minutes, with all of its action confined to the interior of a corporate hotel in Seville, A puerta fria is what one might call compact. However, in spite of its humble trappings, Xavi Puebla’s character study is quietly devastating.

Salva (Antonio Dechent) is a salesman. He’s also a chain-smoking alcoholic who’s been kicked out by his wife. Past his prime in both the world of work and in his personal life, Salva becomes increasingly desperate. When his legacy as a legendary salesman is threatened by new blood in the form of younger co-worker Alex (Sergio Calaballero), Salva sets out to close a deal that will make or break him with U.S. powerhouse Mr. Battleworth (an ageing Nick Nolte).

Unable to communicate directly with Battleworth, the smooth-talking Salva manages to convince Ines, a beautiful, English-speaking hostess to act as translator in the meeting he hopes to secure. Though the two develop an unlikely friendship, Ines’ youth and genial charm only underscore Salva’s hardened bitterness. In one challenging scene, Salva opens up about his rebellious teenage daughter while Ines listens on, in what feels like never-ending silence. Salva’s wordless distress is agonisingly palpable.

Knocking back whiskey in the hotel bar, alone, the wearied Salva is somewhat of a tragic figure, a man whose work has truly taken a toll on his life. Faced with the ruthless cruelty of generational change, Salva is forced into accepting the changing shape of the sales industry. In a time of austerity, Salva is no longer able to rely on the hard-earned trust of his most loyal accounts, cemented by his anecdotal knowledge of their intricate family intimacies, as an adequate means for closing a deal. Such whimsical sales tactics are amiss in the fast-evolving cut-throat industry, a point made blindingly apparent by boss Toni (Jose Luis Garcia Perez). Dechent’s performance as an honest man made painfully aware of his shortcomings is heartbreakingly believable, a battered but resilient sense of pride emanating from behind his steely gaze.

Indeed, perhaps equally tragic is Battleworth himself, shuffling down the hotel hallways anonymously. That is until he speaks, providing a chilling insight into the male-dominated sales industry where women’s bodies are commodified and exchanged for their unit value. Though Puebla leaves the film’s ending ambiguous, his commentary on gender, class and age couldn’t be clearer. An absorbing, affecting study of the tyranny of the daily grind, A puerta fria presents the bleak inevitability of life’s pecking order.

A puerta fria screens at Cornerhouse on Sat 9 Mar as part of ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival. Watch the trailer and book your tickets here.