Cannes 2024 Review: THE OTHER WAY AROUND, Breakup Comedy Is Repetitive On Purpose

Itsaso Arana and Vito Sanz star in Jonás Trueba's Spanish language breakup comedy.

Contributing Writer; New Jersey, USA (@fuzzyyarns)
Cannes 2024 Review: THE OTHER WAY AROUND, Breakup Comedy Is Repetitive On Purpose
A long-term relationship can break down due to several reasons: infidelity, finances, illness, work, family, desire, personalities, the list is endless.
But for intellectual types, who are curious and searching, it can also be due to a horror of complacency, of ending up second-rate, a regular marriage of ordinary people. Such seems to be the case for Ale (Itsaso Arana) and partner Alex (Vito Sanz) when they decide to end their 14-year relationship in Jonás Trueba’s The Other Way Around.
In the very first scene, Ale and Alex discuss a hare-brained approach to their impending separation: a huge celebration to mark the occasion. The theory, originating from Ale’s father, is that a breakup should be joyous since it is a happy outcome for the couple, each going their separate way to fulfillment and satisfaction. They both find the idea ridiculous at first, but agree to give it a shot. They will soon find that society at large is not as open-minded as they are.
In a fantastic early scene, Alex calls his friend Manu to tell him about the separation and invite him to the party. Manu is upset and incredulous and asks to speak with Ale to confirm if this isn’t some sick prank. She confirms it isn’t and Manu reluctantly agrees to come. Alex and Ale then, together or separately, inform their parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even the plumber, and invite them all to the party. To a person, the response is shock and befuddlement.
Throughout, Ale and Alex speak in a flippant, nonchalant manner that gives their acquaintances the impression that this must all be a joke. If it is all just a coping mechanism to hide their hurt, they don’t show it. Are they even really heartbroken? Evidence is scarce. Trueba withholds any information about the couple’s life before they decide to split, and resists offering any reason for the separation, save what can be deduced by seeing their daily routine together.
The couple, despite their impending separation, sleep in the same bed initially, are affectionate and accommodating, make each other coffee and dinner, buy each other gifts, enjoy a movie night, and seem supportive of each other’s lives and careers. They never fight, and if they argue, it is over their interpretation of a film, Blake Edwards’ 10, in this case.
Otherwise, they live in relative harmony. They don’t really seem to be going about the business of breaking up very well, or at all. Only planning for the party -- date, venue, guest list, food, and so forth -- gradually creates a dawning realization that a clock is ticking over their life together.
All their friends immediately tell them that they will get back together. Indeed, the original title of the film, Volveréis, means ‘you will return’. Trueba seems to lean into that view by featuring Stanley Cavell’s book, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage within the film. Films like The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, which Cavell discusses, emphasized the issues that the feuding couple needed to resolve to get back together. For Ale and Alex though, there are no explicit issues and they aren’t even feuding.
The Other Way Around invites participation by leaving a lot unsaid but also resists criticism by self-reflexively anticipating and explaining away any reservations that could be lodged at it. It deploys an elaborate meta scheme for that purpose. Ale is a director by profession and Alex is an actor. Partway through the film, it is revealed that Ale is editing the film we are watching and it stars Alex. Ale even holds a screening of the film where friends and family give her critical notes.
If the idea of the movie, celebrating a breakup with a huge party, seems implausibly movie-ish, Ale already acknowledges that within the film. Scenes held too long or some jumps in the editing rhythms can be attributed to Ale’s directorial choices. Trueba isn’t passing the buck, but everything in the film can be boiled down to the onscreen filmmaker’s decision rather than Trueba’s.
The film is also repetitive, playing the same scene -- Ale or Alex telling yet another acquaintance about their breakup and party -- over and over again. Trueba positions this as a nod to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s book Repetition. An oft-repeated quote on screen is “Repetition’s the only happy love. It does not have the restlessness of hope, the uneasy adventurousness of discovery,” a tacit endorsement of bliss in regimented domesticity, boring though it might be. Ale and Alex’s repetition in the rituals of communicating their breakup to people seems like their own attempt at preserving something of what they had, until they can’t.
Trueba sprinkles in some grace notes to leaven the repetitiveness. Ale can be construed as a gender-swapped self-portrait of Trueba, as he not only casts Arana as the filmmaker but his own father, filmmaker Fernando Trueba, as her father. It is an opportunity for him to film his father with intimacy.
The music by the group Adiós Amores is lovely, including the beautiful title song that plays over the opening credits. Trueba also invited Arana and Sanz to participate in the writing process to create more lived-in characters, much like Richard Linklater did with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke on the Before series.
Besides a shot of Arana quietly sobbing, The Other Way Around is also largely unsentimental., though Trueba does later attempt to elicit some emotion in a scene where Alex and Ale film a screen test where they confess their love for each other, not as themselves but as characters in a script. Ale also ruminates over some old home videos from their past. 
The Other Way Around is like one of those student ‘concept’ films, small and spare, where a filmmaker concocts a simple premise, 'what if a breakup was celebrated with a party,' and runs with it, making a two-hour feature. Trueba’s competence prevents it from being such and he is able to bring some nuance and a contemporary attitude to the played out ‘breakup comedy’ genre.
The Other Way Around premiered in the Director's Fortnight section at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.
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Itsaso AranaJonás TruebaThe Other Way AroundVito Sanz

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