[10 September 2008]
Thanks to the theatre, I’ve discovered how human beings work. There are two kinds of people, no more. Those who want money, and those who don’t know what they want.
—Daniel Peligro (Federico Luppi), Extasis
You people have got it all and won’t let go.
—Rober (Javier Bardem), Extasis
The Spanish thriller Extasis (Ecstasy) arrives belatedly on Region 1 DVD in a release which, one can assume, has been designed to capitalise on Javier Bardem’s recent Stateside success. In it, the winner of the 2008 Best Supporting Actor Oscar can be seen scheming, snorting and aggressively perspiring as a volatile young criminal.
The story focuses on Rober (Bardem), the leader of a trio of delinquents. His devoted accomplices comprise of his girlfriend Ona (Leire Berrocal) and their friend Max (Daniel Guzman). Hardly the criminal mastermind, Rober’s imagination is limited to hatching plans which involve stealing from the gang’s own families.
Early on, we watch them execute robberies of Ona’s father, who owns a convenience store, and then Rober’s own uncle. The latter heist ends calamitously with Max being shot in the foot and jailed.
The threesome then desperately raise the stakes by attempting a more ambitious con: deceiving Max’s estranged, wealthy father into thinking Rober is his son, with a view to procuring the funds to bail Max out of jail and, ultimately, the fortune required to open their dream bar by the sea. The man they seek to swindle, Daniel Peligro (Federico Luppi), is a renowned actor turned stage director; a formidable, cynical figure who nevertheless welcomes the young man he believes to be his progeny into his life. The gang’s honour is put to the test, however, when Rober’s loyalty is compromised by his burgeoning relationships with Daniel, the man who he duplicitously calls Dad, and Daniel’s girlfriend Lola (Silvia Munt).
Whilst not overtly graphic in its depiction of sexual relations, Extasis bristles with sexuality. Unfortunately, this often manifests itself in a somewhat laughable and misjudged prurience. The opening sequence sees Rober preparing for a robbery, priming Ona by violently wrinkling his enormous nose like an animal. She responds, pressing herself breathily against the shop door, she closes her eyes and flips a sign which, given her obvious availability, ironically conveys that store is now closed for business.
Later we see Ona giving Rober the eye and lustily biting down on a train ticket as she departs on an errand. Unfortunately, Ona’s character is so weak, peripheral and underdeveloped that it renders her ferocious attraction to Rober barely credible and mildly unhinged.
This is particularly true as, although Bardem turns in a characteristically charismatic performance, it occasionally threatens to scramble away from him as he sometimes appears a mere hair’s breadth away from growling and licking the lens. The esteemed Federico Luppi is compelling as Daniel, contrastingly contained, mysterious and intimidating.
Extasis eschews the romantic complications that dog similar youthful screen trios, instead focusing on the complex, Freudian triumvirate of Rober; Daniel, whose interest in Rober seems to transcend fatherly pride and affection (at one point Rober comments, “If he wasn’t my father I’d think he was in love with me”); and Lola, an attention-seeking depressive who is both sexually available to and protective of both men.
Unfortunately, its transgressive storyline is hampered by flat direction and unremarkable dialogue, and the film overall lacks the vitality and character which would have better complimented its plot and cast. In addition, a consequence of subordinating its young characters is that it sidelines Max’s dawning realisation that Rober has been seduced by a father’s acceptance and the opportunities that being Daniel’s son affords. The failure to explore Max’s reaction is disappointing as Daniel Guzmán, playing the naïve, trusting Max, is sympathetic and believable during his limited screen time.
Extasis is a moderately impressive and enjoyable thriller, a winding path you may wish to follow. Its courageous subject matter and strong cast go someway to diverting attention away from its various flaws.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/extasis/