Reviews Short Narrative

Father, daughter and old woman (2020) – 1.5 stars

Director: Alfredo M. Gómez

Writer: Alfredo M. Gómez

Cast: Teresa Gómez, Andrea Luque, Miguel Lorente

Running time: 25mins

The ‘slice of life’ genre of film centres on normal people, and the real drama that arises from everyday life. Father, daughter and old woman is a slice of exceptionally shitty life. It could also be termed as a ‘kitchen sink drama’, if there was any sign that our characters – scratching an existence in some godforsaken corner of south-eastern Spain – could afford a sink.

An opening scene of our central character, young woman Carmen (Teresa Gómez), walking down the street before stooping to pick up an empty wine bottle and placing it carefully in a bag, helps establish her hand-to-mouth lifestyle. She talks of looking for work but, with little apparent success, resorts to gleaning tradeable items. Interestingly, she seems reluctant to go to “the wealthy quarter”, even though prospects may be better there. Carmen’s confidante and mentor is Cloti (Andrea Luque), the “old woman” of the title. She too appears to operate within the bartering street economy, achieving a kind of culinary alchemy with the most third-hand of ingredients. We get the impression that Cloti is fulfilling a parental role for Carmen, who’s dealing with having no mother and a controlling and abusive father.

If this sounds like a reasonably grounded set-up, quite rich with possibility, well it is. Sadly though, all the dramatic potential is sucked out of the piece, partly by storytelling weaknesses but mostly by some truly rotten acting and direction. It’s not easy to film natural-sounding conversation. There has to be a balance between ensuring that the audience can hear the words and creating a natural flow and overlap to the dialogue. What happens in several scenes here is that the characters wait patiently for each other to deliver their lines before then stepping forward and flatly declaiming their own.

Imagine a primary school nativity play or perhaps most of all Richard Ayoade’s brilliant creation Dean Learner. Dean is “not an actor” and absolutely cannot act to save his life but mistakenly sees that as a virtue. So, every line sounds purely and only like exactly that – a line of dialogue. Not a character speaking as part of a compelling dramatic scene. In the full-blown parody Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, this is comedy gold. In a piece aiming for bleak realism, it’s a disaster. It’s particularly unfortunate as there are one or two scenes, involving Miguel Lorente as the father, which are really quite good. He has a genuine chemistry with Gómez as the daughter and their conversation feels believable.

But even this small island of good film-making is undermined by the utter carelessness of the plot. Throughout much of the rest of the film, the father is implied to be a toxic and coercive presence in Carmen’s life, to the point where others are concerned for her safety. Maybe he’s supposed to be suffering from extreme mood swings, but as this is never really explored, the scenes in which he’s a sympathetic character feel out of place. He uses a wheelchair, or sometimes crutches, indicating a serious injury suffered at some point in the past, although more recently than a flashback scene that seems to show the family in more comfortable times. The cause of the injury isn’t clear, but the father appears to have revenge on his mind. While it’s nice as a viewer not to be patronised by expositional spoon-feeding, a bit more context would have helped us understand the characters better and might have corralled the writer into producing a more cohesive script.

As things unravel both in terms of the family’s fortunes and the film’s credibility, there’s one final indignity: the arrival of two hideous caricatures from Carry On Predatory Coppers. Woefully written and spectacularly badly acted, at least they swiftly get what they deserve. And that’s about the only time the right thing happens in this strangely disappointing mess.

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