Dir: Juan Flahn
Cert: 15 • SP: 93 min • TLA Releasing • DVD
Modern Spanish cinema has been providing audiences with quirky masterpieces for nearly three decades; from the frenetic yet sophisticated melodramas of Pedro Almodóvar, through to the twisted thrillers of Alex de la Iglesia and the black comedies of Santiago Segura. Newcomer Juan Flahn is not only heir to this heritage, but is set to contribute to it with his highly endearing black comedy Chuecatown, based on the comic of the same name.
The tale focuses on Leo and ‘wolverine-in-waiting’ Rey, a lovable bear couple who live together within the rundown gay district of Chueca, Madrid, an area which is beginning to experience something of a rejuvenation. The old apartments, full of character, are being renovated to create ‘youthful, bright, minimalist homes’ for local gays and ‘modern heteros’ in an attempt to take Chueca from drab to fab. At the heart of this rejuvenation process is a serial killer who happens to be making ‘unavailable’ apartments available by disposing of their elderly owners. When Rey inherits, and moves his foul mouthed mother into, one of these newly available apartments he not only puts her life at risk, but his relationship with Leo too.
Chuecatown is populated with some of Spain’s finest actors, whose performances enhance an already rich script of feisty one liners and laugh-out-loud “I can’t believe they just said that” moments. Tracking the serial killer is the seemingly ineffectual mother/son double act of Inspector Mila (Rosa Maria Sardà) and Luis (Eduard Soto) and in the tradition of great modern Spanish cinema, Mila is as neurotic as she is savvy with more phobias than George Bush has faux pas. Stealing scenes left, far right, and centre is Antonia (Concha Velasco) Rey’s mother, who inflicts insult after insult upon Leo who is no match for the pursed lipped, cigarette toking, forked tongued mother-in-law who sets about trying to split her beloved boy from his ‘inappropriate’ choice of life partner.
This is not just a film of memorable quotes. There are several threads that form the tale and whilst the plot is mostly propelled by the ‘serial killer’ investigation, the characters which carry those strands are woven beautifully by Flahn’s deft direction (with nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho and Marnie). He allows his cast to endear you to each and every character, whether they be a police officer mid identity-crisis, a handsome yet fanatic serial killer or bile-spitting mother-in-law.
Chuecatown is largely about change, the idea of change and its consequences whether they be for better or for worse. For Rey and Leo, that change threatens everything that they hold dear: each other. This is at the heart of the film and allows it to swing from outrageous highs to darkest lows. And there are some genuinely dark moments in this film which, like all well crafted black comedies, only serves to make the humour funnier, and the pathos more touching.
Juan Flahn’s debut is a refreshing comedy which takes an affectionate look at both gay and familial relationships but dares to do so with a critical eye, and whilst owing much to Almodóvar’s early work, Flahn’s creation is far from being a pale imitation, but something authentically vibrant and as entertaining as any of its predecessors.
Before, when you had a queer kids like ours, they looked after you, but now they can marry and leave you when they find a whore who gives them good cock.