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Spanish Affair

Original title: Ocho apellidos vascos

D: Emilio Martínez Lázaro / 98m

Cast: Clara Lago, Dani Rovira, Carmen Machi, Karra Elejalde, Alberto López, Alfonso Sánchez, Aitor Mazo

When Rafa (Rovira) meets Amaia (Lago) and they end up in bed together, the lovestruck barman is shocked to learn that Amaia is from the Basque region. As he is from Seville in Andalusia, and has never left the area, and there is an historical animosity between the two regions, Rafa is at first heartbroken when she leaves the next morning (and not on the best of terms). But when he realises Amaia’s left her purse behind, he takes the bull by the horns, and decides to travel to Amaia’s hometown of Euskadi in an attempt to win her back. On the bus ride to Euskadi he meets Merche (Machi) who takes a liking to him and offers her help should he need it during his stay. When Rafa finds Amaia she’s less than pleased to see him, but his romantic persistence has unexpected consequences: when he meets Amaia’s father, Koldo (Elejalde), he’s forced to claim to be of Basque heritage.

Keeping up this claim leads to Rafa’s being accepted within the community, but this acceptance makes his attempts to woo Amaia even more difficult as the charade requires him to behave as a Basque (and sometimes speak like one). With Koldo remaining suspicious of Rafa’s “origins”, he persuades Merche to be his “mother”. But when Amaia – who before going to Seville had been engaged to marry – decides to go ahead with the ceremony, Rafa is faced with a difficult choice: to reveal his true identity, or leave for good.

Spanish Affair - scene

The most popular Spanish movie at the Spanish box office, Spanish Affair – that’s enough of the word “Spanish” – is a light, frothy, romantic comedy delight that, in its first hour, is one of the funniest movies of recent years. Even with all the in-jokes and political references that are specific to the Basque region, there’s so much for international audiences to enjoy that some viewers may be in danger of suffering from injured ribs – it really is that laugh out loud funny. And even though the movie does run out of steam in its efforts to provide the standard romantic comedy outcome, there’s still plenty to enjoy, as the cast, helped immeasurably by Lázaro’s effortless direction of the script by Borja Corbeaga and Diego San José, have as much fun with the material as the audience.

Making his feature debut, TV presenter Rovira makes for an appealing, charming (though hapless) Lothario, and his comic timing is so acute it makes an extended set piece around the unfortunate ringing of a mobile phone one of the movie’s highlights. Lago, with her severe fringe cut and large, expressive eyes, is a fiery, passionate Amaia, while the undervalued (in Spanish cinema, at least) Elejalde steals the show as the Andalusia-hating Koldo – just watch his reaction when Rafa is called upon to recite the eight family names that will convince the old man of his Basque heritage. Shot on location, Gonzalo F. Berridi’s cinematography adds a sheen to the proceedings that enhances the mise-en-scene greatly, and the whole thing is rounded off by a sprightly score from Fernando Velázquez.

Rating: 8/10 – at times the sound of the viewer’s own laughter may overwhelm some of the often priceless dialogue, but it’s a small price to pay for so much enjoyment; with a sequel due in 2016, Spanish Affair is an absolute gem that sparkles so brightly you might need to wear sunglasses.