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An Alta Films release (in Spain) of a Blue Legend Prods., Alta Films, GRPC, EPC (Spain)/Sinfonia Otonal (Argentina) production, with participation of TVE, Via Digital. (International sales: Alta, Madrid.) Produced by Federico Bermudez de Castro, Marcelo Itzkoff, Ramon Pilaces, Eduardo Perez Climent, Enrique Gonzalez Macho.

Directed by Antonio Hernandez. Screenplay, Hernandez, Enrique Braso. Camera (color), Aitor Mantxola; editor, Santiago Ricci; music, Victor Reyes; art director, Gabriel Carrascai; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos Faruolo, Miguel Polo. Reviewed at Malaga Film Festival, Spain, June 4, 1999. Running time: 99 MIN.

Berta                       Carmen Maura
Jose Luis                 Federico Luppi
Joao                         Sergi Lopez
Carlos                  Antonio Birabent
Veronica                     Laia Marnll
Aurelio                Miguel Palenzuela

One of those coolly named road movies where the title is a place the characters never reach, Antonio Hernandez's "Lisbon" marries a strong premise to good perfs and is more solid than most Spanish shots at the genre, but flawed pacing and scripting means it makes only intermittent impact. Fest runs and sales to Spanish-language offshore territories are its likeliest fate.

Pic opens with an excitingly lensed car crash that looks like it consumed about half the budget. Joao (Sergi Lopez), a Portuguese salesman of tacky audiovisual merchandise to highway gas stations, picks up nervous hiker Berta (Carmen Maura) outside Madrid one hot summer day. She tells him she has to get to Lisbon, but, before she's had a chance to explain why, they have clumsy restroom sex, and he finds a gun in her bag (to the acccompaniment of a heard-it-before thriller-style score).

The slow pace over the first half-hour, as script maneuvers us into accepting implausibilities, is redeemed by pic's tongue-in-cheek attitude and a nicely shellshocked perf from Lopez (which, unfortunately, never modulates into anything more intense). Joao agrees to drive Berta, and the reasons for her trip start to emerge--financial corruption and possible murder on the part of her husband.

This info is revealed partly by Berta and partly by members of her family who are following her--son Carlos (Antonio Birabent), wild-child daughter and sex interest Veronica (Laia Marull) and father Aurelio (Miguel Palenzuela). Matters darken when husband Jose Luis (dependable Federico Luppi, all the more chilling for looking so avuncular) turns up.

On the plus side, the film never goes road-movie philosophical, and it builds to an effective final scene. But given its reliance on plot and character rather than atmospherics, there are just too many holes for comfort: Why, for instance, is the wealthy Berta hitchhiking at all, and why does Jose Luis take so long to catch up to them? A couple of dramatic flashbacks might not have been amiss, while the character of Carlos is simply superfluous.

In Maura's performance, Berta achieves depth and dignity as it becomes clear she is fighting a moral battle and not simply confused. But interest in Joao decreases as the movie proceeds, his nonchalance starting to look like stupidity by the final reels.3

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Date:Jun 21, 1999

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