This film from Spain doesn't intend to be a mystery but it sure doesn't
resolve the question of why the investors (of whom there were so many that the
title credits themselves are a laugh) didn't require a re-write. The other
mystery is what the film is trying to be or to say.
Here you have two women who are calling themselves agents from Heaven and
Hell and, at other times referring to themselves as angels from those planes.
What's more, they argue about the existence and the absent nature of God.
(Its Spanish title might explain why this argument is force fed into a scene
of its own). Well, angels they might well be but they might have been better
off fluttering their wings in a more defined space.
All right, it was fun to see Penelope Cruz in a comic role that shows her
spunky self-confidence, qualities that have been somewhat submerged in big
budget outings. But that's as far as I can stretch the positive side of this
uninspired mess that tries to give us a picture of heavenly and demonic
activities. In this strange vision, the two entities are vying for the soul
of boxer Manny (Demian Bichir). Apparently, which path he takes before
checking out is going to change the balance of the biblical universe.
Carmen (Penelope Cruz) is a waitress in the hellish underworld, subject to
rape and violence by the pumped up residents. She gains respite from this
destiny when she's chosen by the english speaking Brits who run the place to
be an agent. She is tasked with the assignment to return to the mortal world
in order to influence Manny, a boxer with a medical problem, to respond to
his dark side. If successful, she'll achieve the 7th circle and return as a
full grown male earthling. In the meanwhile, she dons the earth role of
manager of a supermarket run by some gangster types. Don't ask.
Meanwhile, a highly politicized heaven sends out its emissary in the
form of Lola (Victoria Abril) to work on Manny for the opposite outcome.
It's really important because heaven is losing its funding and may go
bankrupt, you see. On the ethereal plane Lola is an acclaimed nightclub
singer and Marina D'Angelo (Fanny Ardant) is the French speaking boss who
seems to be the one always crying the blues. She shares authority with
slick-suited Davenport (Gael Garcia Bernal) who puts a male balance on the
gender makeup of the operatives but whose exact contribution seems pasted in
from some other picture.
The great Javier Bardem makes a sneak (uncredited) appearance as Tony Graco
while his mother Pilar appears in a photo.
Look, I know what a metaphor is. But that figure of speech is intended to
clarify through comparison. This obviously metaphorical movie is a jumble of
incoherence. On its home turf writer-director Agustin Diaz Yanes' fantasy
may be understood as a satire on local political issues and attitudes. His
film for the home market was produced in 2001. My guess is that Penelope
Cruz' brightening star is the key factor to explain its resurrection for the
rest of the planet two years later. But, the mystery of how and why it got
made in the first place remains inexplicable.
~~ Jules Brenner