Imagine being locked in a bathroom with a horny, septuagenarian columnist and a young female journalism student in her early twenties, both nude, for over an hour. Seldom has a great film accomplished so much with so little. Well, that's if you consider an insanely quotable screenplay so little.
Director/writer David Trueba's phenomenally witty Madrid, 1987 is an expertly constructed exploration of politics, gender roles, the art of writing, fame, and aging randiness set against a Spain that has moved from fascism to communism to unrepentant capitalism: "Overstepping human rights in the fight against terrorism was never an issue."Miguel (Jose Sacristan) has survived and commented on all of these changes for the past 25 years, and not without risk to his body and soul, but today all he wants to do is seduce Angela (Maria Valverde). And Angela? Is she as naïve as Miguel thinks and hopes she is?
The seduction begins in a local restaurant where Miguel types his daily column ("You crossed the café like a gazelle totally out of place among all this vulgarity") and moves on to an apartment being lent to the writer for this tryst by an artist friend: a pal who forgets to warn, "Don't shut the bathroom door."
Eventually the hunter and the hunted are locked in the toilet in a very believable manner, with Miguel holding forth with a series of aphorisms as he slowly tries to convince the nude nymphet beside him to become sexually accommodating:
"I thought the ones you screwed always held a grudge, but I see you have to watch out for the ones you don't screw as well."
"The Spanish drink to loosen up. The British to kill themselves."
With his only goal being to "get a little taste of youth," Miguel, as the hours tick by, soon realizes he might want to trade in Angela's company for a glass of whisky and a cigarette. After all, her continual refusal to satisfy him makes him feel he's "sitting next to a fountain and not able to run [his] fingers through its waters."
Add a little chatter about Proust, Stendhal, Joyce, and Fitzgerald ("Literature struggles to tell in words what can't be expressed in words"). Throw in some prattling about existence ("Life is the perfect way to sabotage a dream"). Then stir in two hypnotically satisfying performances, and you have a masterful movie that was obscenely dropped out of the theaters before it could be discovered. (After being acclaimed at Sundance, Madrid, 1987 had brief runs at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and the always praiseworthy ReRun Gastropub in Brooklyn.) Seek it out immediately. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "The Arts in New York City," "American Jewish Theater," and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.