Javier Rebollo's brilliantly quirky road-movie "El muerto y ser feliz" [Eng. Title: The Dead Man and Being Happy] looks at the last days of a dying Spaniard in Argentina.
Santos (José Sacristán) - a hit man in his seventies who'd recently been diagnosed for incurable cancer, decides to hit the road in his trusted old banger rather than lie in the ward waiting for death, or the occasional mercy hand-job from a pretty nurse (Valeria Alonso). He buys morphine from the nurse to numb his pain, collects money from a client for a killing assignment, and bids goodbye to Alejandra (Lisa Caligaris) after sharing the night with her - a woman young enough to be his daughter (or probably also is, considering she's his former girlfriend's daughter).
Setting off on the highway without quite finishing the job he'd been paid to do, Santos is, in a way, hoping to bribe death itself by sparing a life that he was supposed to take. It is at a petrol station when he first meets forty-year old Érika (Roxana Blanco), who jumps into the back seat of his car to evade a lover she'd just broken up with. It doesn't take long for the two to strike up a trusting platonic relationship, who will together explore an off-season Pampas away from the beaten path, passing through and staying in remote hamlets, and sharing each other's company whilst encountering different people and stray dogs along the way, until they stumble into Érika's native town. By then their friendship has become more than just platonic, but Santos knows that he needs to undertake the final leg of his journey on his own, and sets off alone on the road once again...
With this film, my faith and love for Spanish cinema has been restored! Probably the best new Spanish film I'd seen in the last two years, it's a loving tribute to everything seventies, particularly crime cinema, and has an air of irreverence as seen during Godard's French New Wave. It is raw and savage in places, but retains a nobility despite its rough edges and minor flaws - much like Santos, and the stray dogs that we encounter.
The film is also underscored with a running voice-over narration by the script writer and director, which while appearing a bit incongruous at first, offers a distinctively wry perspective on event on-screen, that'll engage the viewer further than what a formal drama otherwise would. Alongside veteran José Sacristán's Goya-awarded performance, the narration and sound-design are the secret ingredients that makes this film special. Don't believe the IMDB ratings which is once again way off the mark - this little gem is truly worth uncovering and is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
The Nudity: Lisa Caligaris, Paula Viel, José Sacristán, and Roxana Blanco
The film contains only brief nudity, but is enough reason for me to write about it. Roxana Blanco, while miserly in her display, nevertheless proves to be the owner a beautiful and majestic rack - one can understand Santos' begging her to show them, and would've settled for just one of them in view. The audience too get to see only one, while Santos will be rewarded with a full view, and more.