Director Cesc Gay's new film features great performances by Javier Cámara and Ricardo Darín.
Catalan filmmaker Cesc Gay seems to have cornered the market for Spanish dramedies that can reach both national and international markets. With a wry and discerning eye on the professional and artistic classes in his native country, he assembles a great cast and gives them Stories that connect with both laughter and tears. And his new film, Truman, follows this pattern: once the premise is established, the audience has a pretty good idea of where the journey is going. Even so, it's a journey that's worth taking.
Tomás (Javier Cámara) returns to his home city of Madrid to spend a few last days with his childhood friend Julián (Ricardo Darín), who is dying of cancer. Originally planning to talk Julián into one last round of chemo, Tomás realizes that it is a fruitless endeavor, and instead, helps his friend make his final arrangements, including his funeral, a final visit with Julián son, and what to do with Julián's beloved dog, Truman.
While Tómas and Julián have been friends for decades, their absence from each other's daily lives (and the difference in those lives) means a bit of awkwardness in the beginning, an emotion/behaviour that Cámera has mastered, allowing Darín space to play his more forward character (the type of character Darín doesn't get to play often enough). That awkwardness is made even more stressful by Julián's terminal diagnosis, and the actors play well how likely most of us would react in this situation: Tómas wanting to be supportive but unable to know exactly how to behave; Julián moving constantly between calm and tears, willing to confront those who ignore him or those he has wronged, since he has nothing to lose.
If Pedro Almodóvar has become known as the Spanish director who focuses (for the most part) on the lives of women, Gay focuses his efforts on reflecting on contemporary men and masculinity. The women characters in his films, and in Truman, are certainly well-written (hat-tip to co-screenwriter Tomàs Aragay) and more fully realized than in most films by men, and act as stand-ins for the audience; indeed we are often these women looking on men as they navigate, figuring out how to express their emotions, particularly pain and grief, in a contemporary world that still perhaps frowns on such outpourings from men.
A film such as this moves between its conversations, ocassionally interrupted by comic moments that give the audience a bit of levity (selecting a means of burial and its container prove much more complicated and funny that one would think). Both Cámara and Darín are more than up to the task of conveying the subtlest shifts in emotional, as they each go through the stages of grief and the acceptance of Julián's imminent death. Julián remains steadfast and determined, even in joviality, and willing to confront the realities of what needs to be accomplished before he dies; Tomás searches for the right way to both support and let go of his friend.
While perhaps lacking in the narrative originality of his earlier work, Truman will likely make its audience laugh and cry in the right places. With great performances (and something of a love letter to Madrid as well), it's a bittersweet tale that's worth the time.
Truman opens in New York and Miami on April 7, and Los Angeles and other select cities on April 14, via FilmRise.