1 Hr., 43 Mins.
Amantes December 16, 2019
mantes (1991) is film noir, Spanish style. The movie stars Jorge Sanz as Paco, a soft-jawed and classically handsome Army veteran in his early 20s. As the film opens — in Madrid, in the 1950s — he’s wrapping up his military service. Once he returns to the city, Paco’s plans are meager. Aside from intending to marry his fiancée, the demure Trini (Maribel Verdú), he has no concrete job or lodging
prospects. Job-hunting is consistently difficult (the first one for which he’s hired quickly falls through), but lodging comes a bit easier, thanks to Trini. She points Paco in the direction of Luisa (Victoria Abril), a widow who’s been renting out her spare bedroom to young tenants for a while now. Things will only be tight for a while. Trini has saved thousands of dollars over the years, and plans to share it with Paco once they’ve tied the knot.
Lodging, while easy to attain, comes to pose some problems, though. A little into the movie, Luisa seduces Paco. The latter doesn’t put up a fuss. We gather that’s in part because Trini has made it clear she’d prefer that she and Paco not begin their sexual relationship until after they’ve said “I do.” Paco is too much of a naif to figure that nothing that good can come from having an affair with your landlord — not when you’re about to get married and especially not after you’ve found out that your new lover also dabbles in con-artistry.
Amantes, which was written by Carlos Pérez Marinero, Alvaro del Amo, and the film’s director, Vicente Aranda, takes the shape of a film noir that, in America, is old hat. Once it’s become clear that the passion between Luisa and Paco is so strong that turning back has become irreversible, Luisa suggests that Paco kill and rob Trini, figuring that she’s a nuisance, anyway, and that she wouldn’t appreciate the heartbreak. But Paco has something more wicked up his sleeve. What if he went through with the marriage, only to, days into the union, run away with Trini’s life savings and start things anew with the older, calculating Luisa? This sort of narrative is of course on par with the ones we’ve seen in the most definitive of films noir: namely Double Indemnity (1944) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), movies in which sexy women get gullible, easy-to-manipulate men to, essentially, kill for them.
Those movies had heat, and had a stylish and suspenseful approach that made us forget that we should certainly detest the people behaving badly in front of us. Amantes, in contrast, is cold to the touch. The chemistry between Paco and Luisa, as well as their individual charm, is nonexistent — we don’t like being around them. The difference with movies like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice is that its combination of eroticism and evil turned viewers on. They handed us over a concoction we knew morally we shouldn’t eat up but did anyway. But Amantes doesn’t generate any heat. Aranda certainly tries. The movie has been stylishly shot (full of moody close-ups and pleasingly symmetrical, almost painterly tableaux), and the sex scenes are explicit to the point that, after a while, I was more familiar than I would have liked to have been with the bodies of Sanz, Verdú, and Abril.
Watching Amantes you get the sense that Aranda figured that what made many films noir appealing were their carnality and deadly plots. That’s one part of the equation, certainly. But an extra oomph is necessary to make one move past the confines of potboilers. For Double Indemnity it was scintillating dialogue and scheming performances that sizzled when juxtaposed. For The Postman Always Rings Twice it was the glass-shattering interplay between Lana Turner and John Garfield, and the soap-operatic breathiness with which the movie was often suffused.
Amantes has pretty-to-look-at leads and a director who knows how to compose well, but it isn’t effectively exciting. You wind up fatigued by how much you dislike these people — particularly Paco, who seems like he’s supposed to embody the exasperating ruined-by-a-woman trope but to my tastes is just an asshole to begin with. I felt for Trini and would have preferred to see the film unfold from her perspective. That subversion — seeing the other woman play the lead rather than the man who tosses around her feelings like a baseball — might have made Amantes interesting. But what I see is a competently made and acted movie playing dress up. Rather than the film wearing the garments, the garments wear it. C+