Negociador: a rather unfunny Basque Affair
by Alfonso Rivera
- San Sebastián-born director Borja Cobeaga is on home turf with his new film, following his overwhelming success as the screenwriter for Spanish Affair
There were high expectations at the San Sebastián Film Festival surrounding the new high jinks from 37-year-old San Sebastián native Borja Cobeaga, the director of The Friend Zone [+see also:
interview: Borja Cobeaga
film profile] and No controles [+see also:
film profile]. First of all, this was because the film tackles a particularly sensitive topic for Basque people: the negotiations between the Spanish government and the terrorist group ETA. Secondly, it was because the success seen by Emilio Martínez Lázaro’s comedy Spanish Affair [+see also:
film profile], the most impressive box-office smash in the history of Spanish cinema, taking over €50 million in admissions – of which Cobeaga was a co-screenwriter, together with Diego San José – led us to believe, or hope, that a similar success story was on the cards (at least when it came to breaking taboos and making fun of clichés), though people are certainly aware that comparisons are odious.
But the fact that Negociador [+see also:
film profile] was not part of the Official Section, where it could have rubbed shoulders with other Basque titles such as Flowers [+see also:
film profile] or Lasa y Zabala [+see also:
film profile], which touches on the ETA conflict from a diametrically opposite point of view – and genre – indicated that perhaps we would be discovering a film that falls short of the mark. These sad premonitions have, unfortunately, turned out to be true.
This comedy, which was finished at breakneck speed in order for it to be ready to screen for the first time to the San Sebastián audience, introduces us to Manu Aranguren (the ever-magnificent Ramón Barea: best remembered, in a completely different role, in Wounded [+see also:
interview: Fernando Franco
film profile]), a politician whom his neighbours in San Sebastián hold in contempt because he is the Madrid government’s spokesperson for the negotiations with ETA. This man, who cannot even work out how to use a mobile phone, is entrusted with the task of going to a French hotel to initiate discussions with a representative from the terrorist group. There, with all his best intentions, and all the friendliness and cheerfulness in the world, he will attempt to steer his peace-seeking mission through to a successful conclusion. Because at the end of the day, that was what it was all about: discussions between ordinary, everyday men, complete with all their whims, hangups and primal urges.
This is precisely the main selling point, the greatest asset and the most original aspect of the whole offering: demystifying something as dramatic and solemn as the negotiations could get while they were happening. And it starts off very promisingly, a mood of flippancy gradually seeps into the situations, and a superb dialogue between Manu and a prostitute manages to unleash bursts of laughter among the audience. Nevertheless, the film as a whole is a let-down, as a number of somewhat boring episodes unfold that end up wearing the joke thin.
The dramatisation, which is minimalistic, poor and nigh-on inane, does not help to raise the spirits of a film that eventually becomes a banal sketch, akin to an episode of the weekly sketch comedy show Vaya semanita (broadcast on Basque public television) – which Cobeaga directed years ago – or a short film from his early years as a filmmaker. But as a feature film, it is too underwhelming, leaving the viewer with a disillusioned aftertaste, when his or her palate was yearning to enjoy a film that people expected to be more critical, satirical and scathing, given the promising career of this young and restless filmmaker.
(Translated from Spanish)