Wednesday December 1, 1999
"Spanish Fly" is a smart, funny and realistic romantic comedy from fledgling but talented writer-director Daphna Kastner.
The film opens with the lead character Zoe (Kastner), an American journalist researching a book on machismo, interviewing a sullen taxi driver in a Madrid bar. Because of Zoe's poor Spanish language skills the interview is a struggle, at best, until Zoe's interpreter Antonio (Toni Canto) finally arrives.
The attraction between Zoe and Antonio is obvious but things derail rapidly when Antonio discards the research questionnaire that Zoe has prepared and begins conducting his own interview with the taxi driver. He insists that "no Spanish man will talk to a foreign woman about sex with questions like these" and within a few minutes the interview is over and Antonio is fired.
Zoe is attractive and articulate but she's also insecure and more than a tad uptight, especially compared with the carefree Europeans she encounters in sultry Madrid. (She even looks out of place in her prim cardigans and chunky healed loafers.)
Weary from reams of astoundingly unenlightened interviews, Zoe retreats to her cozy sublet apartment and, from phone conversations she has with her mother who lives in New York, we glean that Zoe has recently been dumped by a supposedly "safe and sensitive" boyfriend. We soon realize Zoe's interest in machos and consequently, her inquiries about what men want from women and vice versa, is more personal than professional.
She struggles between her rational desire for an intellectual and emotional equal, like Carl (Martin Donovan), a former university professor with whom she begins a sexual but loveless relationship, and her primal attraction toward men like Julio (Antonio Castro), a swaggering flamenco guitarist with little to offer but his much boasted about sexual skills.
Thankfully (for Zoe and for the audience) Zoe runs into Antonio again, and, more out of desperation than anything else, she rehires him to assist with her research. Antonio is cocky and a bit of a Lothario but he's also intelligent, funny and very good looking and despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, the two complement each other nicely.
About midway through the film the plot takes a sudden turn when Zoe gets the news from her New York literary agent that no author working on an advance wants to hear: The publishers have decided to scrap the whole project.
Zoe and Antonio then head south to a romantic beach town to the very hotel where Zoe was conceived. It is here that Zoe confronts her past and the mystery of her parentage. It seems obvious that the two are falling in love but Zoe is so consumed by her own pain she consistently sabotages the budding romance. Unfortunately this subplot involving Zoe's parentage is less interesting (and definitely less fun) than the rest of the action and high jinks in Madrid.
Danny Huston, son of John and brother of Anjelica, is hilarious in his small role as John, Zoe's ex-boyfriend who shows up in Madrid while "re-tracing Hemingway's steps" with his Robert Bly-type men's group. John is a former wimp who now embraces fishing, chanting and drumming and who contends that "men have forgotten how to be providers" because women have held them back.
Overall the film is an intelligent and entertaining probe into modern relationships and a nice showcase for Kastner, Canto and Huston.
Spanish Fly, 1999. R for strong sexuality and language. Avalanche Releasing and Miramax Films present a Star Line, Portman Entertainment and Banfilm Production. Director Daphna Kastner. Producer Juan Alexander. Screenplay Daphna Kastner. Cinematographer Arnaldo Catinari. Editor Caroline Biggerstaff. Music Mario de Benito. Production designer Alain Bainee. Costume designer Jose Maria De Cossio. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Ralph Fiennes as Maurice Bendrix. Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles. Stephen Rea as Henry Miles. Ian Hart as Mr. Parkis. Daphna Kastner as Zoe. Toni Canto as Antonio. Martin Donovan as Carl. Antonio Castro as Julio. Danny Huston as John.