Re:View – ‘La Chispa De La Vida’ (The Spark of Life)

The Arts


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.

12 comments on “Re:View – ‘La Chispa De La Vida’ (The Spark of Life)”

  1. snowy says:

    ‘Thick of it’ and ‘Twenty Twelve’ were the last two that [eventually] sprung to mind.

    Satire, needs to be fresh and sharp. By the time most things get made the joke has already been hammered to death. And it relies on very local references, the riff on the Ready-Brek ad only worked if the viewer knew what was at Sellafield.

    Though there are satirical threads woven through other things if one keeps an sharp eye open. Billy Wigglestick had the same problem, compare the impact of CGI, with his advice to actors about not ‘sawing the air’.

    [Might need to replace ‘groundlings’ with ‘the feebleminded’ 🙂 ]

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Let’s see: Ready-Brek, Sellafield, neither of them meaningful words here. That’s another problem for an author who would like to sell off-shore or in another market or overseas or whatever you want to call it, how much local terminology or reference can you use without making whole paragraphs opaque to a foreign reader? You want the local colour, you need the local slang but you really don’t want footnotes, glossaries or vocabularies cluttering up your deathless prose. A couple of us were talking about this issue with regard to medieval Scots terminology used in a medieval mystery. Where the story is set in a different time period then a glossary is not only acceptable but necessary. Where a language other than English is frequently referenced (Quebec or New Mexico for example) a vocabulary could help a reader, but the author should remember the average reader’s dislike of doing research when reading fiction and only use enough unfamiliar terminology to set the stage with time and place. I don’t suppose the balance is all that easy to find sometimes.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Quebec and New Mexico aren’t languages, but you knew I meant French and Spanish in those respective jurisdictions, didn’t you?

  4. snowy says:

    It made sense without the codicil, though I was assuming the narrator was an English speaker who would use local terms like ‘pain-fesses’ or ‘bodega’.

    Ready-Brek was an instant porridge, the ad campaign showed people that consumed it developed an un-earthly glow. [The tag line was ‘Central Heating for Kids’]

    Sellafield was a nuclear power station with an unfortunate tendency to leak.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I like the Ready-Brek ad, although *instant* porridge is a contradiction in terms, and I should have remembered Sellafield. My mind was referencing transparent adhesive tape. Bodega I know but pain-fesses? Bread? What?

  6. snowy says:

    As I understand it, a solely Québécois thing.

    a ‘pains d’fesse’ (pain en forme de fesse), is bread baked in the form of a pair of buttocks, I know it might get cold and lonely in the winter, but 🙄

    I’ve hidden a link to a page with a picture on it above, look for the orange text.

    [In news totally unrelated to the post, an old colleague of mine, had to stay in London for a few nights.

    She deliberately chose a hotel offering free Wi-Fi. At the end of her stay the bill included a £100 charge for internet access.

    Turns out it was free only in the public lounge/bar, £20 per diem if you used it in your room.

    I only mention it as something you and K might need to be aware of if you pop over.]

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Only a peculiar person could describe that bread like that. They are just double loaves, baked two to a large pan. (Hmm, wonder if our pans came from bread pans?) Anyway, that was a fascinating post and she(?) certainly picked up a lot. So many Quebecois words come from English or are left over from Brittany or Normandy, where so many of the first Quebecois came from, although I suppose Picardy is possible, too. Since the ski-doo was invented in Quebec I think the blogger could have allowed that word. Fun stuff.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and thank you for the heads up regarding the Wi-fi. That is certainly something to confirm before booking.

  9. snowy says:

    Bread is an interesting subject, being a staple food stuff before the arrival of the potato. And people have done all sorts of odd and interesting things with it. Thankfully the days of making your own dough and then carrying to the Bakehouse to have it cooked are long gone.

    Apart from a silly name the shape makes perfect sense, less metal needed to make the pan, and fewer pans to handle.

    [Returning to the off-topic theme of the cost of things while visiting, the other extortionate racket is phone calls and data usage when bringing mobile phones in from overseas, [roaming].

    Well I’m shocked I thought it was high but on looking it up Bell want $2 per/min for a call and an eyewatering $8 per MB. That is shocking, infact it is disgusting.

    I’m aghast, you should take advise locally from people who have made the trip before to get a better idea. And have a search around local online message boards for info.

    There are ways round it, though I can’t help feeling I’ve been telling you things you already know. So I’ll hush up.]

  10. Helen Martin says:

    There is a lot of talk about roaming fees and we in Canada now know that we pay the highest fees of all. The current advice is to get a disposable phone or whatever they call them and leave your own at home. A local man took his family to Mexico and his son played games on the father’s phone (after being told not to) and they ended up with a $2,000 phone bill which was reduced to $200 once the story went public. I do not know how many things I don’t know so all contributions are welcome. I have a little time to gather info since we’ve had to postpone our trip till Sept.
    All that you say about bread is true. People who don’t like crusts often like double loaves because one side of the loaf rises with the side of the other loaf and results in an inside seam – no crust. I worked in a small-town bakery for several summers and I learned about forming loaves and the idiosyncrasies of the public. Since then I’ve done fancy braids and such, proving that the plastic arts will out in whatever medium is available.

  11. snowy says:

    Local basic phones cost from £13 including the £10 top-up, which buys an hour or so of calls and a couple of hundred texts.

    Email the new numbers to nearest and dearest from the hotel, [just in case they need to contact you urgently. Not likely I hope.]

    Check emails and do any browsing while in the hotel or a cafe/coffee shop using the free wifi, and if you want to chat to people back home you could use Skype.

    If the wi-fi isn’t really free or dead slow, then it might be time to buy a dongle! they are preloaded with credit and cost £30-40. [Skype is a bit data intensive so be careful!]

    [If you want to see whats available, and any terms and conditions, the company names are ‘Carphone Warehouse’ and ‘Argos’]

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Thank-you, Snowy. I am grateful for any on the ground information and advice. I only heard of dongles recently and was I ever nervous about asking what they were.

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