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The Two Sides Of The Bed
cast: Ernesto Alterio, Guillermo Toledo, Alberto San Juan, Maria Esteve, and Pilar Castro

director: Emilio Martinez Lazaro

100 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
In the September 2008 issue of Sight And Sound magazine, Charles Grant, in his monthly 'bottom' (well, you can't call it a column, can you?) wrote how prior to Phyllida Lloyd's Mamma Mia the only "notable big-screen 'jukebox' musical, a drama showcasing the hits of a single act, was the ill-fated Across The Universe directed by Julie Taymor and tacking together tracks by the Beatles." It is an arse-over-elbow definition. What jukebox carries only the music of a single artiste or group? Oh, the might be one in Camden which has only enough room for everything recorded by Billy Childish, but the term 'jukebox musical' has been around for several years now and has been correctly applied to films which cover tracks by a variety of acts. Clearly, this is a very small subgenre and only a scant number of films have to date attempted it.

Some might say, by experience of Baz Luhrman's horrendous Moulin Rouge, and John Turturro's bemusing but irrefutably unsuccessful Romance And Cigarettes, that it is an experiment to date proven only prone to failure but they would be far off the mark. Dennis Potter was on and off successful with the format in his television work, particularly in Lipstick On Your Collar which was not only one of his final commissions but the series which launched Ewen McGregor on his road to success. Potter's Pennies From Heaven, and The Singing Detective began life on television and would subsequently become feature films. Again, as features, these American adaptations were perhaps not particularly successful but neither might their soundtracks have been quite the jukebox spinners that were the mainstay of Lipstick On Your Collar, which has yet to be turned over to the big screen.

Many would expect jukebox musicals to turn to tunes more recent, from the more poptastic era of our youth. Spain is the only country to have genuinely tackled the formula with not only critical acclaim but audience success too. Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's El Otro Lado de la Cama in 2004, featuring Paz Vega in one of her final roles before the transfer to Hollywood, was one such Spanish box-office hit. A jukebox musical and a sex farce (another genre that the Spanish have had terrific success with), making it a doubly difficult objective to achieve it nevertheless works beautifully in both its categories. There followed Ramon Salazar's 20 Centimetros, the title taking its title from the protagonist's penis length: the significance of this that he is transexual and is due to have it removed.

20 Centimetros moved between the darker text of a 'colour noir' social setting and the fabulous high-fantasy of spectacular song and dance routines. It plundered globally popular tracks that might be recognised by westerners but at times included chart hits known only to the home crowd. El Otro Lado de La Cama however took its songs from the core post-Franco era of youthful expressionism that was 'moderno'. The look was a crash of punk and new wave whilst the sound took from anywhere but usually came back as naff-pop, largely because the Spanish music scene was listening to other European radio and by the mid-to-late 1980s there was little but rubbish anywhere else in the European mainstream to recommend that Spanish pop do better.

Song and dance numbers, cleverly retaining the moderate singing and dancing abilities of its stars in favour over perfection, occasionally broke the fast yet delicate film farce. A small dance troupe occasionally slipped in from the background but though their moves were spot on, the small difference between that and the actors was just that, a small but deliberately noticeable difference. The westerners' unfamiliarity with the numbers automatically set a level playing field for the audiovisual experience whereas with a film in which the numbers are known memories are brought to the surface and some songs may have fallen out of personal favour, imbalancing the experience.

El Otro Lado de La Cama was made a fuss over at the 2004 Viva! Spanish film festival but the sequel, The Two Sides Of The Bed (aka: La 2 lados de la cama), from the same director, fell to a more quiet surrender in the 2007 programme, as other new big noises took to the fore. I also reluctantly surrendered my ticket for the film in order to join friends for a different film screening but I, at the very least, expected the film to follow the original to either a theatrical or DVD appearance in the following months. Sixteen months later it finally arrives with clear concerns for this viewer that there may be a reason for the delay; it is a sequel after all. But the delay is not uncommon for Spanish film and there is a long list of wonderful productions (Spanish and Latin American), including Astronautas, Sobrevivire, El Frio Sol del Invierno, El Metodo, La Educacion de las Hadas, Justino - Una Asesino de La Tercero Edad, Tot Veri and Sabado, Una Pelicula En El Tiempo Real, all still awaiting UK release.

Los 2 lados de la cama, scripted by David Serrano, lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor. Returning four of the original players, its female leads, the gorgeous duo of Paz Vega and Nathalie Verbeke are absent, have moved on into larger career arcs. Ernesto Alterio (as Javiar) and Guillermo Toledo (in the role Pedro), the men behaving badly, have two new girlfriends, the also beautiful Veronica Sanchez and Lucia Jiminez (playing Marta and Raquel respectively). In a repeat of the first film there is no messing about on the setting up of a plot and we are thrown immediately into the situation. Though there is at least one wedding imminent (between Javier and Marta) the girlfriends are also having an affair together behind the boys' backs, the lads blissfully ignorant of this until Javier is deserted on his wedding day. Javier becomes paranoid and makes despicably in the direction of Raquel, suspecting Pedro of being the interloper, though it is Pedro too who is about to be ditched for the secret affair.

Rafa (short for Rafael), superbly played by Alberto San Juan, and his girl Pilar, (Maria Esteve, both actors returning), are also in relationship collapse, as she cheats on him with his comically, nerdish and ordinary best friend, Carlos (Secun de la Rosa). Rafa becomes suspicious of his lively girlfriend but sees his friend as so asexual a threat, even to the extent of nicknaming him Carlitos therefore conferring upon him the status of a little boy, that he invites him into their apartment to spy on her. These are the circumstances that the other two jump to agreeing to, adverse to the ridiculous excuse that the inept Rafa lays forward for Carlos to come living in. Then there is Carlota (the wonderful Pilar Castro). Stood up by her date at the club, she becomes increasingly, comically drunk and joins the lads on their stag night. Met again, the abandoned lads fight over her until she proposes a threesome. This all sounds like an atypical farce but it is conducted with such élan and the players are such fittingly cast comic actors that it is never less than refreshing.

It is not only the choreography of the dance numbers that are important but also the choreography of nearly every movement: reactions, counter-reactions, interaction, verbal and physical. Great evidence of this is found when Pedro initially trespasses on Javier's space over the blossoming companionship of Carlota but also in the earlier bed scene when a grieving Javier imposes himself on the other couples bed and that paranoid defensive tussling becomes slapstick signature that is unique to this series. Inseparable and fighting over women their auto-defence kicks in and they trap one another in doors, step in-between one another, and grab each other's hands to keep them from taking those of the girl. The timing is meticulous. Beautiful as Sanchez and Jiminez are Castro and Esteve steal their thunder, with their more intrinsic comedy characters and in the case of Castro in her subliminal pathos.

Sanchez is a queer, unfathomable mix of the dippy and the connivingly smart. She has an OCD habit of turning everything into lists no matter how trivial (the anatomical bits of the hen-party stripper that she essays to a liking for) or the serious (the possible reasons increasingly wild and endless for the girl standing up the fianc´┐Ż on the wedding day) though without any of the depression. She is inherently merry in her outlook, always seeing the positive, sometimes at the aggressive expense of the reasonable and she is completely free of guilt in her actions. Castro is an indispensable addition to the cast, her drunkenness producing some of the best of the earliest laughs. She is both forward and yet there is a distinct air of vulnerability and sadness about her but one which her character is curiously currently comfortable with. You warm to her in a thrice. She is a girl, a teenager, a woman, a mess and class, content and yet lost, all in the one package.

The girls do not as freely undress this time but the film is no less naughty for it. The dance numbers are sensual and sexy; and make the lambada look like the hokey-cokey. The background dancers vary in number and the actors, particularly the new girls, and especially Sanchez, are more professional in their movements. The blokes appear to have upped their dance performance too. I miss the make-do quality of their previous performance but it does not harm the sequel. The pace is regular, the amusement constant, but more importantly, this is a sequel that not only balances out but also maintains a parity of quality consistent with that of the original. Bob Clark's Porky's and Porky's 2: The Next Day were the last comedies to do that and yet that series tried for a third time and it was well under par. There are no murmurs of a third in the 'Cama' series and if one did not come then that would secure their perfection as a double bill. Maybe it is right to put it to bed there. Thank you for the continuing joy, thank for the music... now, senores Martinez-Lazaro and Serrano, let's see what else you have up your sleeves.

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