José Luis García Berlanga’s Barrios altos is a fun, light thriller/sex-comedy, that feels very of the moment in Spain and very post-La Movida Madrileña.
Victoria Abril (who I know best from Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) plays Veronica, a woman who gets in over her head in the murder plot of her masseuse. The plot is convoluted and then explained-away, but the film is funny and the pacing breakneck enough that the plot matters less and less as it goes.
The 1980s Spanish punk culture seeps into so many frames of the film-
-and I think that’s important. Though this is easygoing fare, there’s still plenty of dark or seedy undercurrent. Veronica gets mugged, she borrows money from a homeless man (a funny moment, but also perhaps indicative of her naïveté of his desperation), she’s abused and hit by multiple men. She’s a strong, if flighty, heroine – and a good pair with her friend Ana (Carmen Conesa) who sleeps with nearly anyone in the film. Berlanga’s script makes note of bad neighborhoods (not the one pictured above), of a single divorcee who can’t escape the surname of her ex-husband, and of liberal sex. It all adds up to a portrait of Spain that’s colorful and progressive like much of Almodóvar’s work, but also one that’s still not forward-thinking enough.
That color palette – purples, mostly-
-is so 80s, and takes just a little bit of the realism and seriousness out of some of the subplots.