Smoke And Mirrors


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Smoke And Mirrors
"Too much smoke and not enough mirrors."

Alberto Rodríguez follows up his oppressively impressive thriller Marshland with a slice of real-life cross and double-cross. Based on the story of Spanish spy Francisco "Paco" Paesa and his involvement in the disappearance of corrupt Spanish Civil Guard chief Luis Roldán (Carlos Santos) after news broke of massive embezzlement of government money, what emerges is a variation on the Catch Me If You Can theme, as Paesa (Eduard Fernández) proves a master manipulator of people's money and trust.

One of the great virtues of cinema is that it is possible to streamline a story but Rodríguez and his co-writer Rafael Cobos are unwilling to leave anything out. Instead, they use a secondary character Jesús Camoes (José Coronado) - nicknamed The Pilot - to fly us through the turbulent plot by means of voice-over which becomes a dominant note, so that the story exposition leaves its characters in the shade.

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The complex tale, which involves the laundering of money as well as the hiding of Roldán, would be much better suited to a mini-series and one wonders if Rodríguez already had that sort of structure in mind ahead of his next project, TV series La Peste. Perhaps he feared international audiences would be unwilling to follow the story without chapter and verse on its protagonist, but as it is, the narration of Camoes made me feel as though I was cramming facts for a Paesa exam that might be set in the foyer at the end, with so much attention being spent on trying to absorb who was where and at what time that the characters themselves made little impact.

We know where Paesa was and what he did at almost every moment but his motivations and emotions remain so frustratingly opaque that he becomes almost invisible within his own film - not so much the man of a thousand faces as faceless. Rodríguez certainly turns on the style in terms of the film's look and easily immerses us in the Nineties period during which the action is set. He and Cobos also demonstrate an ability to sew humour into the script although the satire lacks the dark and lingering bite of Marshland. After two hours of instruction from Camoes, you'll emerge knowing something of what Paesa (probably) did at the end the film, but you'll be none the wiser about who he is. Too much smoke and not enough reflection.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2016
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Smoke And Mirrors packshot
The story of spy Francisco Paesa, a man who fooled an entire country.


SSFF 2016
London 2016

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