En temporada baja (In Low Season) – 30th ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival

David Cunningham

Writers Javier Félix Echániz, Asier Guerricaechevarría and Jon Iriarte

Director: David Marqués

Machismo is a social construction of masculinity common across Latin American and Spanish culture that maps out how men should engage with their gender based on virility, courage, strength, and power. The central joke in En temporada baja is that, although the film concentrates almost exclusively on male characters, none of them can be considered in any way macho. Actually, it debatable how far they can be classed as civilised.

Alberto, (Antonio Resines) is the closest to an alpha male. A fast-talking hand-waiving shyster in the manner of Max Bialystock the once-successful sports agent is reduced to living in a caravan campsite. He does not hesitate to beg the use of houses owned by his few remaining friends when he wants to make an impression. Even when this results in the activation of burglar alarms or funeral urns being used as ashtrays Alberto shrugs off any regret.

Alberto encounters Charly (Edu Soto), a police officer going through a divorce and living out of his car and squatting in the police station. Alberto exploits Charly’s naiveté and installs him in the campsite at an exaggerated rent. But Charly’s wife is going out of town leaving him to take care of their children Laia (Marc Játiva) and Nico (Ángela Amado). As Charly is incapable of taking care of himself let alone young children Alberto enlists support from the completely unsuitable Martín (Fele Martínez) -who appears stoned most of the time and speculates about whether there is a market for vegan carnivorous plants- and failed investigative journalist Raúl (Coque Malla).

That basically is that as far as the plot is concerned. Seinfeld was famously categorised as a show about nothing featuring no hugging and no learning. That description sums up the approach taken by writers Javier Félix Echániz, Asier Guerricaechevarría and Jon Iriarte; none of the characters develops or matures. The closing scene is a reprise of the opening, with the original campsite residents urinating on the beach, but joined by newcomers as if they have succeeded in dragging other people down to their level. It could even be considered depressing.

The writers offer no characters to whom the viewer might relate. There are no contrasting lifestyles depicted as an alternative to the squalor in the campsite. Charly does not fall from grace but rather fits right in; at one point son Laia offers his father a toy which he has outgrown which makes the point Charly is really just a child himself. The movie does not take a judgemental tone even when Martín steps stark naked out of the shower in front of a pair of youngsters. There is more a sense of resignation, a rueful acceptance that the characters cannot be expected to behave any better.

There are comic set-pieces in the movie, usually involving Alberto’s desperate schemes. It is a show-stopping turn from Antonio Resines , so completely self-involved he is puzzled when his ex-wife turns down what he thinks is a magnanimous offer they should re-marry. But director David Marqués adopts a medium pace so there is no sense of urgency behind any of the schemes to push them to the point where the humour becomes hysterical.

There is potential for En temporada baja to develop into a comedy of embarrassment. Edu Soto’s Charly in particular has to try and defend indefensible actions to disapproving teachers and beg his children to support his fictions. But for such an approach to work the characters would have to be capable of feeling shame and that does not look likely. When caught out Edu Soto seems mildly baffled someone has seen through his fibs rather than ashamed. But then this a father who, even before being left by his wife, had never taken his children to school or shown any parental concern.

Marc Játiva and Ángela Amado deliver delightful performances as Charly’s young children stealing every scene in which they appear, largely by being the only really likeable characters in the film. As they do not speak until the closing credits parents in the audience must watch the film full of envy for their lucky guardians.

With a pedestrian pace and a non-judgemental tone En temporada baja is a resigned acceptance of poor and boorish male behaviour rather than a devastating criticism of failed macho culture.

En temporada baja is screening at the 30th ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival, HOME, Manchester, on 6th and 18th April 2024.

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