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MALAGA 2017

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Selfie: A portrait of a happy, brainless world

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- Victor García León administers a comical slap in the face to a society scored by animosity, by handing the reins of this mockumentary over to an archetypical upper middle-class twit

Selfie: A portrait of a happy, brainless world
Santiago Alverú in Selfie

Someone once said that if a comedy manages to get three laughs out of the audience, then it counts as a success. Selfie [+see also:
trailer
interview: Víctor García León
film profile
]
, Víctor García León’s third film, smashes that benchmark in its rollercoaster of a first half hour. The film starts out with a brilliant premise: to follow a pampered twenty-something, the son of a politician facing various criminal charges, as he suddenly finds himself catapulted out of his privileged and indulgent world and forced to experience things that, until now, lay outside the limits of his imagination. The result, quirky but intriguing, was chosen to open the Official Competition Section at the 20th Malaga Spanish Film Festival, and the film has been showered with praise (and the odd snipe) ever since.

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In 2004, Juan Cavestany and Enrique López Lavigne (founder of Apache Films, which got on board with Selfie after seeing an early cut) directed a comedy that in time would become a cult hit: What a Feeling!, starring Santiago Segura and Javier Gutiérrez and chronicling the dreams and disenchantments of two middle-aged men from one of Madrid’s swankier neighbourhoods. In the intervening decade, although Spanish cinema has intermittently delved into the world of the country’s well-heeled, rarely has a film focused exclusively on the younger generation. That is, until Victor García León decided that a son of Spain’s modern-day aristocracy would be the perfect butt of our amusement, rousing us to laugh at him, with him, and, ultimately, at ourselves — as members of a society as bizarre as it is vacuous and conformist.

Selfie, as the title suggests, is a self-portrait of the central character, Bosco, (portrayed with devastating precision, in both parlance and attire, by Santiago Alverú, an actor firmly established within the reining urban “posh kid” tribe), and of the backdrop that the camera also captures: A Spain divided into the well-to-do and the bohemian riff-raff, caught between a conservatism gone stale and a naive radical left — occupying opposing and hopelessly irreconcilable worlds. In a stroke of genius, the director of Vete de mí plucks one of these spoiled youngsters out of his comfort zone and plonks him down right in the middle of a strange and hostile territory: Madrid’s working-class melting pot, Lavapiés.

And what effect does this journey of exploration into another continent have on the jejune and mollycoddled Bosco? Why, it elicits much the same response as a trip into deepest Africa might have done: surprise, shock, confusion, repulsion, a frisson of fear and no end of bewilderment. Similar emotions, perhaps, to those that a supporter of the left-wing Podemos party might experience in making the acquaintance of the upscale Salamanca district. García León weaves his tail with an overwhelming and acerbic enthusiasm, exploiting to the full this grotesque caricature of a particular kind of madrileño that every day dominates the country’s newspapers, online platforms and TV coverage.

The paradox presented by Bosco, and by the country he reflects, is that he can feel perfectly happy despite living in a mire of inanity. And that’s why, although we begin watching Sefie with peals of laughter, by the time we reach the end of the film we find ourselves feeling something akin to bitterness, the smile frozen on our faces as we watch a country that, in choosing to forge blindly on, continues to embrace extreme political positions, like a mother who accepts all of her children equally, no matter how imbecilic, just to keep the peace.

Selfie was produced by II Acto, Gonita and Apache Films.

(Translated from Spanish)

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