A former couple’s chance meeting sets a masquerade in motion in a screwball comedy by Mexican writer-director Manolo Caro.
There are two narrative strands in the new rom-com by Manolo Caro. In the main action, two fortysomethings go to farcical lengths to deny their still-powerful feelings for each other. The second thread explores their impetuous teenage romance. The former could stand quite well without the other, but in Tales of an Immoral Couple (La vida inmoral de la pareja ideal), Caro and his appealing cast strike a winning balance between the familiar and the fresh. By turns ardent and absurd, the movie doesn’t quite suspend disbelief but embraces it, to charming effect.
Finding its own, fluid pulse — with fine work by a trio of editors — the pic’s push-pull nostalgia is fueled by pop music and dance as well as affection for San Miguel de Allende, the arts-centric Mexican city where much of the action unfolds. Tonatiuh Martínez’s widescreen lensing favors symmetrical compositions that emphasize the story’s comic artifice, with Fernanda Guerrero’s bright production design putting its own stamp on the feature’s Almodóvar Lite sensibility.
Though they’re determined to prove otherwise, Martina (Cecilia Suárez, excellent) and Lucio (Manuel García-Rulfo) have essentially been waiting for each other for 25 years. Even after a quarter-century, their bond is so intense that they instantly recognize each other’s voices after only a few overheard words in the random store where they cross paths. Flustered and smitten all over again, they both invent marriages for themselves on the spot, and then have to recruit friends to play the invented parts during an upcoming night at the theater.
With the lure of a year’s free rent, Marina gets her tenant, Igor (Juan Pablo Medina), a depressed alcoholic writer, to play her hubby, while Enriqueta (Nina Rubín), the mouthy 9-year-old daughter of her semi-estranged sister, Beatriz (Mariana Treviño), is cast in the role of her kid. Lucio’s pregnant friend Loles (a terrifically game Paz Vega) eagerly digs into the chance to thesp out as his wife, but she and her husband, Vicente (Andrés Almeida), complicate the ruse with their own secret.
The awkward fiction the grownups create, which culminates in a sharply played, vivaciously silly dinner scene, is intercut with the central duo’s memories of their love story. As the teenage Martina and Lucio, Ximena Romo and Sebastián Aguirre give the Catholic high schoolers’ connection an earnest, sensual curiosity. He fearlessly joins the school’s otherwise female ballet class in order to be near her, and Caro’s zingy screenplay condenses the initial stages of their friendship into a few breezy yet charged scenes.
The filmmaker treats the young couple’s drugs-and-sex experimentation with refreshing respect rather than sensationalism. At the same time, he casts an ambivalent eye toward a couple of adults — Martina’s dance teacher (Javier Jattin) and an erotic photographer (Eréndira Ibarra) — who become a part of their adventure. The soapy melodrama involving Martina’s best friend (Natasha Dupeyrón) that eventually tears the two apart hasn’t quite the intended impact. It doesn’t so much enrich the present-day action as punctuate it.
The contrast between the moralistic and the open-minded that Caro addresses in the memory sequences simply hasn’t the oomph of the adults’ folly, with its ridiculously emphatic rejection of sentiment. It’s the deliriously silly grownups — written, directed and performed with such fine-tuned friction — who are irresistible.
Distributor: Hola Mexico Distribution
Production companies: Cinépolis Distribution and Noc Noc Cinema in co-production with Woo Films and Equipment & Film Design, in association with Zamora Films and Panorama Global Films
Cast: Cecilia Suárez, Manuel García-Rulfo, Paz Vega, Mariana Treviño, Sebastián Aguirre Boëda, Ximena Romo, Juan Pablo Medina, Natasha Dupeyrón, Andrés Almeida, Nina Rubín, Javier Jattin, Eréndira Ibarra
Director: Manolo Caro
Screenwriter: Manolo Caro
Producers: Rafael Ley, María José Córdova, Manolo Caro, Rodrigo S. González, Stacy Perskie, Gerardo Morán, Gerardo Gatica
Executive producers: Gerardo Morán, Beto Corona, Cecilia Suárez, Alberto Muffelmann
Director of photography: Tonatiuh Martínez
Production designer: Fernanda Guerrero
Costume designer: Natalia Seligson
Editors: Yibrán Asuad, Miguel Musálem, Jorge García
Composers: Julieta Venegas, Yamil Rezc
Casting director: Luis Rosales
Rated R, 91 minutes