Piedras : Spain 2002 : Ramon Salazar : 130 mins

Clumsily juggling the stories of five women (or is it six?) in the Spanish capital, Salazar blatantly aims for a kind of Madrilena Magnolia – complete with Aimee Mann-style songs from Natalie Merchant. The results are like Paul Thomas Anderson with all the visual zap removed, leaving undeveloped characters entangled in melodramatic implausibilities. Showing classic signs of ‘debutant writer-director syndrome’, Salazar keeps biting off more than he can chew (there’s a running gimmick whereby the women’s shoes supposedly provides the key to their characters) with the result that the film ends up at least half an hour too long. Nowhere, however, in these 130 minutes does Salazar tell us why his film is called ‘stones’, though the explanation provided in the press notes is so trite perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t bother.

For all Stones‘ glaring shortcomings, however, it is often surprisingly watchable – Teresa Font’s nimble editing deserves a large chunk of the credit. Salazar can direct performers, and he’s gathered together some of his country’s leading actresses in what amounts to a Spanish equivalent to Ozon’s 8 Women. Almodovar veteran Antonia San Juan makes the biggest impact as a brothel-madam who tentatively embarks on a mid-life romance. Her multi-layered character provides much more meat than that available to Angela Molina, relatively short-changed but watchable as ever as a wealthy housewife in the throes of divorce. While the men are largely peripheral, the brooding Daniele Liotti emerges a real find as a sexually ambivalent artist breaking up with an emotionally brittle nightclub dancer – Najwa Nimri, in the role roughly equivalent to Magnolia‘s Melora Walters. Neither of them is especially well-served by the script, however, which is mainly preoccupied with tying everything up in a finale of ludicrously upbeat sunniness.

7th April, 2002
(seen 14th February, Berlinale-Palast, Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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