That Happy Couple

***1/2

Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

That Happy Couple
"The film's combination of comedy (Berlanga) and melodrama (Bardem) is rooted in a realistic, cash-strapped milieu that was unusual in Spanish cinema at the time."

That Happy Couple (Esa Pareja Feliz) follows a young couple in the first few years of their marriage - including flashbacks to their initial courtship, stuck at the top of a ferris wheel - as disillusionment sets in when their lives do not go according to plan. Juan (Fernando Fernán Gómez - most familiar to non-Spanish audiences as the father in Víctor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive, which is also showing at Leeds Film Festival 2014) is an electrician at a film studio but hopes to advance his career by practical means, studying by correspondence course to become a radio technician - although when that leads nowhere, he resorts to get-rich-quick schemes with one of his neighbours. In contrast, seamstress Carmen believes in luck - she plays the lottery and enters every competition going - and spends afternoons lost in the fantasy worlds of double features at the cinema.

At an inopportune moment - Juan's latest scheme has cost him his job at the studio and he's in the process of picking a fight with his wife about how meeting her curtailed his grand plans - a representative of Florit soap arrives to tell them that Carmen has finally won a competition: for 24 hours, Juan and Carmen will be 'that happy couple', enjoying the best that Madrid has to offer with all expenses paid. They will discover that the luxuries and creature comforts they have been longing for do not solve their problems or hold the key to their happiness.

Copy picture

The first film made by the two directors after they graduated from film school - Juan Antonio Bardem dealt with the actors, Luis García Berlanga with the technical elements - That Happy Couple was not released until the success of Welcome Mr Marshall! (co-scripted by both of them, but directed by Berlanga alone) two years later. Their inexperience is evident in the film's unconventional structure - the opening credits play over the start of the prize but the film then shuttles back and forth in a way that is occasionally confusing - but it contains many of the elements that would define their respective careers in the future.

The film's combination of comedy (Berlanga) and melodrama (Bardem) is rooted in a realistic, cash-strapped milieu that was unusual in Spanish cinema at the time (the depiction of unemployment and housing problems was part of the cause for the delayed release). Tthe cinematic norm of the period was the historical dramas sent up in the sequences when Juan is at work at the film studio - illustrated in Juan's insistence on undercutting the illusion of filmmaking by explaining various technical aspects (travelling shots and back projection) to Carmen while they watch a film at the cinema. The cinema sequence also draws attention to the censorship that would dog both directors during the dictatorship - another woman in the audience loudly harrumphs during the romantic climax of the film, exasperatedly stating "They've cut the kiss".

Although slight in comparison to some of their respective later works, That Happy Couple is an enjoyable comedy, and the lanky Fernán Gómez (the man is all angles) is a particular standout in a performance that is as spiky as his appearance.

Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2014
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A young couple win a competition to 'that happy couple' for a day but find that money and gifts don't solve all of their problems.

Director: Juan Antonio Bardem, Luis García Berlanga

Writer: Juan Antonio Bardem, Luis García Berlanga

Starring: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Elvira Quintillá, Félix Fernández, Fernando Aguirre, José Luis Azores, Antonio Garisa

Year: 1953

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Spain

Festivals:

Leeds 2014

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