A tense, oddly erotic, biblical, tender and profound film, MADRID, 1987, is a tale of two people who are opposites in every way. She is young, he is old. She is the daughter of a fascist military leader, he is a communist. She is quiet, he speaks streams of sentences. She is a student, he a professor. He is married, she is single. They are like two passing trains. This both mesmerizes and terrifies him. He’s more afraid of her youth, than she is of his age.
MADRID, 1987 directed by David Trueba (set in 1987 Madrid; big bifocals, high-waisted jeans and all) is essentially a cast of two characters: a well-established communist-leaning journalist and professor, Miguel (José Sacristán) and aspiring journalist and student, Ángela (María Valverde), with side entrances of people in the life of Miguel, the waiters who serve him coffee at the café he uses in place of an office because the “newspaper doesn’t let you drink there anymore”, a fan of his column asking for an autograph just as he tries to put the moves on Ángela, an autograph of which he signs, “You have poor timing” and his painter friend who goes away for the weekend to the mountains to breathe.
The film is shot almost entirely in the actual apartment of Spanish artist, Joaquín Risueño — and tiny bathroom space, exhibiting awesome camera work. The most beautiful part of MADRID, 1987, is the usage of thirds. Abstract snapshots of their bodies, scars, and humanity, and the little accoutrements we keep in our attempt to barricade ourselves within an identity, a gender, a body, act as interludes: a Van Morrison album, a pipe, paintbrushes, English lavender cologne, her face, his body, reading glasses. The soundtrack is bare, Miguel interestingly tells Ángela, in one of his rants against inserting music in film,”Music is like a traffic signal telling the audience what to feel and when to feel it.”
Ángela has requested to interview Miguel for an article but instead finds herself being interviewed and deconstructed by the biting cynic of a teacher. He says, after reading some of her work in the café, “You assume the voice of your subjects,” he adds, in the breathless way a cynic does, “A writer is not a chameleon,” … and then “Writing should stab, not pinch.” His critiques pile upon themselves and her seeming naïveté glares through in her uneasy glances at him. She’s silent, in a pouty, child-like way. She glows and as Miguel notes, “Glides across the room like a gazelle.”
He convinces the late 20-something Ángela to join him in the apartment of his painter friend for the interview and some whisky. She hesitantly obliges. She snoops around the paint-spattered rooms and ink-stained brushes, as Miguel thinks of ways to seduce her. After painting her in streaks of blue and kissing her and stroking his old hands along her body, she decides to shower the colour off. He is persistent in conquering her, in order to “fly on her wings” for a taste “of youth.”
He catches a glimpse of her showering and decides to join her in his arrogant thinking that the seduction just might work this time. But she’s already getting out, and preparing to leave, only to find out, they’ve been locked in and the door is swelled shut. Miguel’s painter friend won’t return until Monday. In between random shouts for help through the small bathroom window, Miguel talks of época, profundities of age, bitter and banal topics: from the paranoia in the 70s after Franco’s death, to the Dirty War, the Green March, Ángela’s older sister Isabel’s sexual proclivities as a communist theater student in the 60s, Proust, Faulkner, Hemingway, to his “wisdoms” of “Brits drink to kill themselves. The Spanish drink to loosen up,” “Kissing is like a formality as you age,” and in response to her frustration of his overrated place in literature, he says “Only an overrated writer can making a living at this” and the most telling of all, “Meeting someone you admire is the first step to not admiring them at all,” … “Because inside they are dirty, rotten, untidy.” Just as Ángela had admired Miguel’s work, she now saw him for all he was and is.
Miguel and Ángela are both nude, vulnerable, occasionaly taking turns using the one, small ink-stained bath towel to cover up. He continues poetical rantings, he stops and asks silent Ángela, “Why do you make me feel so alone?” She is defeated by his suspicions of life and youth. She is like a mirror to him. He can suddenly see himself as she sees him. He pities himself and his age, telling her, “You’ll forget me in every body that awaits you.” Miguel is at times eerily perverted, you feel you can’t trust him but his words redeem himself sometimes. Though suddenly Ángela comes to life in the final scenes — she’s far more independent, forgiving and wise than she initially lets on. She finally can break free from the bathroom when the painter returns. She leaves so hastily that she does not take her books and glasses. As she is walking along the city streets, rushing home, her outline is juxtaposed against the gritty and ornate buildings. She is nearly angelic. Is Ángela real?