The Grandfather

The Grandfather

The Grandfather opens with a shot of a framed photograph sitting on a table, a picture of a mother and her two daughters. The camera pulls back and reveals a luxurious room, all ochres and golds, yellow roses, brocade wall coverings, candlelight. Dona Lucretia (Cayetana Guillen Cuervo) arrives home with her escort, a minister of the government with whom she has been having an affair. He wants her; she is nonresponsive to his kiss. "To eternal love," she toasts, "and the short time it lasts."

The movie takes place in turn of the century Spain, but the sensibility – and the film’s style – are pure 1948. Memories of romantic-family-costume dramas from that period evoke nostalgia in those who experienced the genre. It was the Saturday matinee equivalent of curling up with a respectable, but not-very-challenging novel for a "good read."

But times change, sensibilities change, and yesterday’s escapism becomes, alas, today’s bore. The Grandfather is beautiful to look at; the scenery, costumes, and decor are handsome, the lighting and the cinematography are fine. There are some interior scenes that have golden hues and glowing light reminiscent of a Rembrandt painting.

The script, unfortunately, is another story. Don Rodrigo, the aged grandfather (Fernando Fernan Gomez), has returned from Peru to rescue the honor of his granddaughter. His widowed daughter-in-law, Dona Lucretia, has two daughters, one his legitimate granddaughter, the other the product of yet another extramarital affair. Both girls are beautiful, loving and charming, but Don Rodrigo is locked into fiercely held values of aristocratic honor, the integrity of his lineage. His conflict with Dona Lucretia, a woman of both passion and practicalities, is established.

By now, what might have been drama has deteriorated into melodrama, ever more predictable, ever more sentimental, and taking itself as seriously as Streisand takes her investments. Don Rodrigo repeatedly speaks in intended aphorisms ("We elderly people are really children locked up in old bodies.") which are either silly or banal. Had the slightest attempt at irony been injected here, there might have been hope, but, no, director Jose Luis Garci, veteran of three decades of filmmaking and winner of an Academy Award in 1983, plays it as straight as a Baptist in Disneyland.

The screenplay, based on a novel by Benito Perez-Galdos, includes stock characters for social commentary: a well-fed priest, an obsequious bureaucrat, self-serving family retainers, a nouveau riche mayor. Allusions to changing times give the impression, if not the substance, of weighty observations. The actors are skilled, but defeated by the stereotyped characterizations and the leaden, cliche-ridden dialogue. And the soundtrack uses saccharine arrangements of two pretty but overexposed melodies, Elgar’s Nimrod and Satie’s Gymnopedie 1. Although both compositions might have been heard during the period in which the film is placed, historical accuracy does nothing to serve esthetic ends here, and Satie would surely shudder at the burdening of his simple melody with the overwrought and underfelt emotions of this celluloid anomaly.

Arthur Lazere………..

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San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.