At the start of Madrid, 1987, the cynical Miguel (José Sacristán), a veteran newspaper columnist in his 70s, goes to a café to meet Angela (María Valdaverde), a young journalism student profiling him for a school assignment.
Two things become immediately apparent: Angela has tremendous respect and admiration for the journalist, and Miguel is willing to say whatever she wants to hear in order to get her into bed. He’s not a creepy pervert trying to manipulate a naïve woman. Miguel is rather blunt and upfront about his desires, and Angela gamely plays along because she’s getting to see his true essence, which will make her essay better. They both have something the other wants.
A few short scenes later — for reasons that are utterly believable — writer-director David Trueba (Welcome Home, Soldiers of Salamina) has locked his two characters in a tiny bathroom, nude, with nothing but a small towel. The rest of Madrid, 1987 traps the viewer inside that cramped space with them. But instead of claustrophobic and dull, the film becomes a vibrant and compelling drama that’s always highly cinematic because Trueba’s primary objective is to make an entertaining movie.
The central conceit is to pit two characters of different generations against each other at a critical moment in Spain’s history: An aged, conservative veteran of Franco’s Spain vs. a member of the liberated youth movement that spawned Pedro Almodóvar, Alex de la Iglesias and other Spanish artists who came of age in the 1980s. They talk about Spanish society, the arts and religion, literature and the media. Through them, you can see how a formerly divided country learned to get along.
But Madrid, 1987 is much more than an intellectual polemic. Sacristán, whose voice is so pleasurably commanding he could be a hypnotist, turns Trueba’s dense dialogue into comic poetry. He makes wry observations about foreign cultures. (“The Spanish drink to loosen up. The British drink to kill themselves.”) He rues celebrity worship and stardom. (“Meeting someone you admire is the first step toward not admiring them anymore.”) And Miguel is also a horndog who is not going to let the opportunity of being locked in a room with a beautiful, naked woman pass him by.
Madrid, 1987 operates on a dizzying number of levels — as a romantic comedy, a sex farce, a study of culture clash, ageism and idealism — and the highest compliment you can give this ridiculously talky movie (which plays better if you speak Spanish) is that you’re a little sad to see the characters go on their way once they part, probably forever.
Cast: José Sacristán, María Valdaverde.
Writer-director: David Trueba.
Producer: Jessica Berman.
Running time: 100 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, explicit sex, nudity, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.