"Torremolinos 73" is a smart, unpretentious comedy about what might be called the accidental pornographer.
Set in Spain in the early 1970s, when Francisco Franco was still in power, it peeps into the grim life of Alfredo Lopez (Javier Camara), a short and balding door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.
His boss is on him because sales are awful. His landlady ambushes him in the hall because the rent is three months overdue. And his wife, Carmen (Candela Pena), thinks this would be a great time to have a baby.
Then the boss, Don Carlos (Juan Diego), offers him a pile of pesetas if he agrees to make certain "educational movies." This is part of a "scientific study" that will go into the "World Audiovisual Encyclopedia of Reproduction," to be sold in installments in Scandinavian countries. Alfredo takes the bait.
Cut to Alfredo attending a crash course in moviemaking under the tutelage of a dubious Danish filmmaker who claims to have worked with Ingmar Bergman and quotes the Swedish master at every opportunity. Carmen, meanwhile, gets racy acting lessons from the Dane's wife.
Right away, Alfredo and Carmen begin producing and starring in home movies shot in their tiny apartment. They are hilarious sagas of nurses, deliverymen and other fantasy characters. And we eventually see Alfredo's footage as a grainy Super 8 film.
Pablo Berger, directing his first feature film, tells Alfredo's story in a meticulous production that re-creates the bright-colored '70s era -- outfits, sunglasses, cars and everything. The soundtrack even includes a soft-rock classic from those days, "Eres tu."
As Alfredo cranks out films, he develops aspirations as a director. He instinctively understands cinematic techniques, from subtle framing to zooms (it's porn after all!). And along the way he discovers his deep passion for cinema.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to Alfredo and his wife, Carmen has turned into a porn sensation in Scandinavia.
Obsessed with Bergman and tired of shooting the same sex scenes over and over, Alfredo develops a script called "Torremolinos 73," named after the Spanish summer resort in the Costa del Sol and the year the action takes place. With Don Carlos as the producer and the help of a "professional" Danish film crew, they set out to shoot Alfredo's pretentiously arty black-and-white film.
The tone of the movie zigzags from black to lighthearted, but it is mostly loyal to the premise of the comedy it wants to be.
There is a lot of nudity and soft-core sex, but it is not gratuitous. And the movie's humor wins you over. Camara and Pena give fine performances, careful enough not to turn their character's naivete into stupidity.
Berger adds a charming touch to the "film within a film." You can tell he has a lot of fun showing us Alfredo's work, which makes for some of the funniest scenes of the movie.
"Torremolinos 73" is reminiscent of Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" not only because it is about a passionate but inept director struggling with an odd film crew but also because of the love and respect the director shows for his characters.
Some might complain that the film doesn't address the repression of the Franco era. But that would be asking the movie to be a historical document. It's not. Rather, it is simply a small, honest comedy about passion, movies and love, so human that it leaves a bittersweet aftertaste that may soften the laughter and provoke some reflection.
Torremolinos 73 (91 minutes, at Landmark's E Street, in Spanish and Danish with subtitles) is not rated but features graphic sexual content.