Alex de la Iglesia is one of my favourite directors. Not everything he does works – witness the drab version of ‘The Oxford Murders’, his only film in English – and I wasn’t over-struck on ‘Perdita Durango’, the prequel to ‘Wild At Heart’. But the hits, like ‘Day of the Beast’, ‘La Comunidad’, ‘800 Bullets’ and ‘Ferpect Crime’ are delicious dark adventures. This one’s an oddity that’s dividing critics, as satire always does.
It’s a modern riff on Billy Wilder’s ‘Ace in the Hole’. This time, the hapless schmuck who falls afoul of the media is an out-of-work ad executive married to the stunning Salma Hayek. Repeatedly turned down for work, he falls back on the memory of his big career moment – coming up with the line ‘The Spark Of Life’ for a successful Coca-Cola campaign – but that was a long time ago, and no-one will take him on in the crashing Spanish economy.
On his way home he suffers a truly bizarre accident involving a museum dig, a crane and a building frame, which results in him being impaled through the head by an iron rod. The press is already on-site because the museum is opening its restored amphitheatre, and when they realise they have a victim of the credit crunch alive and talking, just pinned through the skull, they scent a story. His wife and children show, along with an agent, product placement and warring networks who remember the case of the Chilean miners and want the exclusive.
Soon, the network execs decide that an interview would be worth more if our hero died. The museum director, the mayor and even the doctor are all giving interviews while the world tweets and Instagrams itself into a stupor. Only his wife proves to have any morals as she turns down the offers to televise her husband’s last hours. Taking place in virtual real time, it all builds to a tricky ending that confounds expectations, although the end freeze-frame is unfortunate.
It certainly doesn’t all work. The satire is broad and unsubtle, occasionally ludicrous, and its targets are obvious. Iglesia uses the museum’s classical iconography in the title sequence (his titles are always brilliant) but doesn’t follow through with the theme. Balancing this is a superb performance from Hayek as the wife who sees her husband succumbing to opportunistic greed, and must fend off the jackals of world media. And beneath the caricatures, the story contains some horribly unpalatable truths about life today. It would have benefitted from being presented in a tougher, more realistic fashion.
I’ll applaud an original failure more than a low-aiming carbon-copy hit. But when was the last time you saw an actual satire? It was a staple of 60s and 70s movies, but is a genre prone to losing its way. The film is likely to be retitled ‘As Luck Would Have It’ in the US, although I can’t see it getting much of a release.