Loud, manic, cute and colorful, nobody’ll confuse the Spanish comedy “A Remarkable Tale (Lo nunca visto)” for high art.
But the acting’s fun. And this goofy riff on long-held prejudices, cultural decay and immigration fills the bill if you’re looking for an undemanding film of the “feel good” school of comedy.
High in the Pyrenees in the north of Spain sits the town of Fuentejuela. But our story isn’t set there. It takes place among the crumbling houses, “for sale” signs and decay of Upper Fuentejuela, a village up the mountain from the main town.
It’s “a dead-end town of old people with hideous sweaters,” one self-aware local laments. No doctor, no priest, no snowplow service on a regular basis.
They’re down to 16 souls, and about to lose their “village” census status. “Annexation” is what the mayor “down below” (Paco Tous) harps on. But not if Teresa (veteran comic actress Carmen Machi) and her friend Jaime (Pepón Nieto) have any say in the matter.
Ditched and betrayed by her husband, who moved off the mountain, she’s planning to run for mayor. Jaime is a budding chef who created a signature tart for everybody in the village to make and sell to tourists.
But there are no tourists. And then, these four Africans in pre-colonization tribal wear show up. They’re on the run, dangerously under-dressed for the snowy weather. The Civil Guard is after “four colored individuals.”
The villagers are alarmed. Break out the shotguns! “They’re dangerous, ALL of them,” they bellow (in Spanish with English subtitles). “And UGLY!”
The Africans, whom Teresa and we, the viewer, are allowed to assume are a dance troupe hoping to emigrate, don’t alarm her. Jaime? Sure. But after some adorable language barrier moments, she sees Shukra and Latisha (Ricardo Nkosi, Montse Pla) and Calulu and Azquil (Jimmy Castro and Malcolm Treviño-Sitté) as less of a problem and more of a solution.
“They’re good. And tall. And handsome. Really handsome.
If only she can convince the intolerant and the insensitive around her to see it as she does. Sure, it’ll be “as easy as finding a black guy in the snow.”
The Africans are mistrusting, saying the same thing about “the whites” that many of the locals are saying about them. Well, not EXACTLY the same things.
“They’re here to take our chickens…our WOMEN!”
Old Paco may wave the shotgun, but Jaime’s mom just wants to know who’d want to emigrate to “this s—hole village?”
Can everybody learn to get along, and quickly enough for a funeral, a festival and the village’s clumsy medieval dance demonstration?
At least the hippy running a failing hippy “commune” (Jon Kortajarena) can’t be racist, right? Well not as racist?
“Hey, I have a tattoo of Bob Marley hugging Nelson Mandela! I CAN’T be racist.”
I laughed a few times at this, winced a few other times. There are two sharp observations about the nature and misguided origins of cultures clashing. Dying European villages like this that recognize the need to “Integrate or die” are popping up in Italy and elsewhere.
And ingrained cultural supremacy has been beaten into generations of Europeans and Americans from childhood. You’ll never use “Clean your plate. They are children starving in Africa” with a straight face and clear conscience again.
This isn’t all that “remarkable,” but “A Remarkable Tale” stays upbeat and positive, and manages to have a little fun with a subject that’s roiled the world for a decade. Cute or not, that’s saying something.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity, adult situations
Cast: Carmen Machi, Pepón Nieto, Kiti Mánver, Montse Pla, Ricardo Nkosi, Jimmy Castro, Jon Kortajarena and Malcolm Treviño-Sitté
Credits: Written and directed by Marina Seresesky. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33