Digital Reporter Abigail Ward reviews Carmina y amén…
Carmina y amén is the second outing for Carmina Barrios – a middle-aged, chain-smoking matriarch from Seville who gained notoriety in Spain after playing herself in Carmina O Revienta, a low budget sleeper from 2012 directed by her son Paco León. Now the mother-and-son team are back with a bigger budget vehicle, which expands a short monologue from the first film into a satisfying full-length feature dealing with the death of Carmina’s husband, the ‘mildly schizophrenic’ Antonio.
From the film’s opening scene, in which Carmina discovers Antonio dead in his favourite armchair, a claustrophobic, through-the-keyhole atmosphere pervades, partly attributable to the cramped flat in which much of the action unfurls, but also born of Paco León’s probing camera work, which nails his mother’s every nuance. The viewer becomes an unwitting intruder: should we really be peeping in at a time like this?
Unable to stop ourselves, we witness Carmina making a frantic phone call to Maria León (her daughter both on and off screen), who arrives at the flat soon after. Antonio’s sudden passing provokes shock and nausea in the women (the film is book-ended by two vomitous interludes), but something isn’t quite right. Carmina quickly becomes a little too business-like, too practical. Do we trust her? When she decides to keep her husband’s death a secret until she has received his long-awaited work bonus, we grow suspicious. Has she had a hand in his demise?
The uncomfortable hours pass and Carmina’s relationships are revealed through a series of inconveniently timed visits to the flat from friends, neighbours and an insurance salesman, all from whom Antonio’s increasingly stinky corpse must be hidden. Not an unfamiliar device, perhaps, but one that allows for many rich moments of near-the-knuckle comedy. Carmina is at the centre of almost every scene, scheming, controlling, dominating the action – a sun around which minor planets orbit.
She remains a surprisingly attentive listener, comforting her vulnerable friend Fran, and sharing a spliff and a giggle with the sexually adventurous Yoli (magnificently played by Yolanda Ramos). It’s great to see a mainly female cast drawn with such subtly.
The men are incidental, barring Carmina’s (real-life) son Alejandro – a volatile thug, whose temper erupts in a memorable scene outside his sister’s beauty salon. Quickly licked into shape by his mother (of course), Alejandro calmly offers Carmina a lift home on his motorbike, which for reasons I won’t reveal, provides a major comic high point.
Carmina herself has two confidantes: Antonio, who in death is privy to urges kept from him in life, and Barcenas, her ever-tolerant parakeet. Through these one-way conversations we learn a little more about our heroine, but there is always something elusive, something under the surface of her implacability that keeps us guessing.
Carmina y amén succeeds both as an offbeat comedy and queasily intimate family drama, hinting at a promising future for the real-life Carmina. The final scene delivers a neat twist – the kind that makes you want to watch again from the beginning…immediately. And a word of warning – this is not for the recently bereaved!
Carmina y amén screens at HOME on Sun 10 & Sat 16 Apr as part of ¡Viva! Festival. Watch the trailer, book tickets and find out more here.
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