After: Burns and Glows

I can see the DVD/Blu-ray blurb already: “Rashomon meets Irreversible meets Y Tu Mama Tambien!”  Alas, Alberto Rodriguez’s After never quite reaches the aesthetic or emotional heights of those cinematic touchstones, despite borrowing liberally from their filmic language and tropes. Relying on a chronologically-recursive narrative to make more profound what seems to be, on the surface, a shallow character study of three hard-partying Spaniards, “After” can be seen as both a cautionary tale and fantasy for people on the verge of midlife crises.

“After” also continues a proud Eurofilm tradition of more-or-less average-looking middle-aged guys (Tristan Ulloa and Guillermo Toledo) paired- (or in this case, triod-) up with a younger knockout female lead (Blanca Romero). The gist of this love triangle goes like this, one guy wants the girl, but the girl wants the other guy, who doesn’t know what he wants. We follow their frustrated ménage-a-trois through the especially Spanish ritual of la marcha – drink, drugs, and debauchery till dawn.

Long a staple of coming-of-age films, artsy indie erotica, or R-rated comedies, the crazy club-crawl usually features pretty young things unburdened (albeit temporarily) by the demands of reality or human physiology. What makes “After” seem relatively refreshing is how it shows full-grown adults to be just as capable of (and just as consumed by) making absolute messes of themselves in pursuit of that elusive emotional or chemical high. It also manages to properly dramatize how each shot and snort take a far more evident toll on flesh that’s past its prime, and how the real world never really goes away, even if you can escape or put it on hold for a few hours. There’s a genuine lived-in world-weariness to the film’s tone and spirit that shows it was clearly made by and for real adults, not precocious twenty-somethings just playing at being all decadent and jaded.

Knowing that this film was conceived and written before 2009, one also realizes that it’s a time capsule of a Spain that doesn’t exist anymore, a snapshot of the twilight of a more carefree, confident country, just before the economic mierda hits the abanico.

The film definitely falls into that narrow navel-gazing genre that deals with White People/First World Problems, thus its relevance seems particularly questionable considering Spain’s current fiscal situation and the fact that it’s being shown at a festival in a developing country. But as another film favourably reviewed on this blog had been accused of celebrating “bourgeoisie juvenilia”, and its cinematic worth eventually defended, lack of perceived relevance doesn’t make crises or emotions any less human or sincere. Spanish star Guillermo Toledo, who’s made his mark in more comedic roles, is featured in the film’s most searing story arc. Despite the set-up and character being generally unsympathetic, his portrait of a man hitting emotional rock bottom rings true, and stays with you as the most hauntingly affecting aspect of the film. Heartbreak and disillusionment truly are universal tragedies, no matter the context.

– This film is currently being screened as part of Pelicula, the 11th Spanish Film Festival in Manila. For more information check out:

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