Abracadabra: a colourful and breathless rollercoaster ride. Directed by Pablo Berger, it is a brilliant example of the vivacious entertainment that the 21st Spanish Film Festival will provide. It is comedy and drama, fantasy and thriller;—a wonderful mixture of genres, that at times causes the film to struggle to stand its ground, but ultimately entertains until the very end.
At the centre of this busy film is Carmen (Maribel Verdú—you’d know her as Mercedes from Pan’s Labyrinth) , a doting housewife of quiet determination, striving to remain an anchor in the chaos that consumes her life. Her husband, Carlos (Antonio de la Torre), is an absolute brute; a fine example of sexism and machismo, who may or may not get the comeuppance that everyone is begging for —you’ll need to watch the film yourself to find out.
The film opens with the couple, and their stereotypical teenage daughter, Toñi (Priscilla Delgado), attending a family wedding. It is a scene filled with fantastic laughs that had me thinking I was safely tucked away in the loving arms of a comedy. During the wedding, Carmen’s cousin Pepe (José Mota) attempts to hypnotise the ever-patronising Carlos, who naturally had to volunteer to poke fun at his fellow family member. It’s not until later that we discover Carlos had been possessed by the spirit of Tito (Quim Gutierrez) during the hypnosis, a waiter who stabbed seven people to death at the same wedding venue in 1983, before committing suicide. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be a comfortable comedy after all.
Carlos is different now. He speaks softly, makes breakfast in bed, drinks chocolate milk, and actually helps out around the house. Maybe getting possessed was a good thing. Maybe things are better this way. But goody-two-shoes Carmen sets out to make things right. I guess it’s not ideal to live alongside a ghost inhabiting your husband’s body … So, with the help of Pepe, and his disturbingly eccentric magician tutor (Josep Maria Pou), Carmen embarks on a startling fantasy quest of swingers and dramatic real estate agents to bring back her argumentative, soccer-loving, ass-in-shining-armour husband.
Desperate to learn more about the spirit sharing her husband’s body, Pepe and Carmen track down Tito’s old apartment and the agent in charge of it. What ensues is an incredibly hilarious scene—despite the glaringly obvious dark subject matter. The agent attempts to sell the “unsellable” when forced to reveal that Tito murdered his own mother right in that very dining room, before he went on his killing spree. He then pulls Carmen into a re-enactment of the bloodstained events, so dramatically comedic that I was left in stitches. For once I was glad there were subtitles on the screen, or I wouldn’t have known what was being said beneath the roars of hysterical laughter.
Carmen leaves the house, distraught by the knowledge that her and her daughter are sharing a house with a suicidal murderer—who, due to his tormented mind and past, could lash out at any moment.
Carlos doesn’t have an easy go of it either, returning in small snippets to find himself confronted with a bold chimpanzee that initially engages him in annoying shenanigans—like stealing his lunch and distracting him—but whose actions quickly descend into more sinister activities. It is eventually revealed that he is a visual hallucination, caused by Tito’s schizophrenia, which is now slowly seeping into Carlos’ world. Completely unaware, Carlos struggles to understand who or what he is becoming, often waking up to a trail of disaster caused by Tito-control. This has serious consequences, like when he almost kills his co-workers after attempting to operate a crane … with absolutely no prior experience.
There is one disappointing aspect though. The first time Tito locks eyes with Carmen he insists that he knows her from somewhere. Instantly, I felt that this detail must be important. So, I waited expectantly to join the dots with later events … but eventually I forgot, perhaps like the filmmakers, that I was owed an explanation—either that, or my friend and I completely missed something. It could have been something truly meaningful that added depth to the film, but instead it was swept under the rug and never brought up again. A real shame.
Despite this, Abracadabra makes for an interesting viewing experience. If a genre-hopping piece that makes you laugh, gasp, clutch the edge of your seat, while delving into sexism and schizophrenia, isn’t money well spent at the cinema, I don’t know what is.
Putting the two men, Carlos and Tito, in direct contrast with each other was also a clever move. Blurring the lines between the existence of one so loving, yet so troubled, and one so incredibly arrogant and abusive, opened my eyes. Even when the man we are set up to hate starts to experience the formidable effects of schizophrenia, we realise that we don’t want anyone to suffer alone in such a way. This film carries an important message, that we should endeavour to love and care for those around us, while firmly stating that we shouldn’t let anyone take advantage of that love—to know that we are worthy of respect.
So, don’t suffer silently; don’t seek to put others down; live a life you can be proud of.
… and go to the Spanish Film Festival, that is also very important.
Abracadabra, and other films from the 21st Spanish Film Festival, are in cinemas now.
For more information on schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, head to Healthdirect Australia.
Image sourced from furyosa.com.