Tomas (Javier Cámara) flies to Madrid, Spain to visit his old friend, Julian (Ricardo Darín) who is not in the best of health, and needs to find a home for his hound, Truman. It’s not too long before we realise the big C is about to claim another victim as Julian decides he no longer wants to fight a losing battle. Cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi) has been keeping in touch with Tomas, who has four days in Madrid to see Julian one last time.
It sounds like a maudlin film about dying with dignity, but Julian is so likeable and full of character, that there’s none of that. He confronts the platitudinous and thanks the gracious on their journey. It’s like a road movie without a car, or a buddy movie without the slapstick. And this is where beautifully subtle acting from two Latin masters kicks in.
Darín gives Julian a raffish charm. We don’t find out as much about Tomas, because Julian doesn’t ask. He’s a self-obsessed likeable ‘user’, who is broke and milks Tomas’ guilty generosity. (Once you realise he’s an actor, it makes sense). These are old friends and they talk in shorthand. We find out more when they hang with Paula or visit Nico, Julian’s son, in Amsterdam than when they’re together.
As they make their various visits and see different people, Tomas is often silent, but you can feel a tug on the heart strings without him playing them. Cámara is a great comic actor but this is all reigned in. Darín has an impish cheeky charm that makes you forgive. Fonzi as the emotional cousin Paula isn’t around long enough – she provides the sparks. They’re all a joy to watch.
Julian doesn’t want sloppy sentimental goodbyes and co-writer/director Cesc Gay doesn’t want them either. There’s no need. The topic is powerful enough and you don’t need to be made uncomfortable. What you get to enjoy is a beautifully acted film, where there’s more tears in the audience than on screen, which is how good drama should be. This actually leaves you with a smile.
Con’s Score: 4 dog biscuits.
Con Nats – Talking Arts