The Shame

The Shame


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Taking place across a single morning in a household David Plannell's feature debut is, despite it's title, chiefly concerned with immaturity, secrets and growing up. Lucía (Natalia Mateo) and Pepe (Alberto San Juan) are a thirtysomething couple living in an modest apartment in Spain with their young son Manu (Brandon Alexander Lastra Cobos). Although that's not exactly right, as Peruvian-born Manu is currently just their foster child - a troubled under-10, who has behaviour and bladder control issues as a result of being shoved from pillar to post at an early age.

He has been living with the couple for some months as the wheels to full adoption slowly turn, and they are struggling to cope, relying heavily on their Peruvian nanny Rosa (Norma Martínez) to help, since her background means she has more of a rapport with the child. As the morning goes by and a new woman from the adoption agency arrives to complete Lucía and Pepe's assessment, there are tears and revelations as the pair go into meltdown, while Rosa is also facing a crisis of her own.

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Planell has been working as a writer on Spanish television for several years, so it is little surprise that this story feels as though it could just as easily be an episode in an ongoing soap opera as the basis for a feature film. Set almost exclusively within the confines of two houses, he uses the confines to good effect, drawing parallels with an early bit of drama involving the family's pet goldfish. In some ways these characters are swimming in their own little bowls and on being thrust from their comfort zone find themselves struggling to breathe. The symbolism is a little heavy-handed - Pepe literally struggles to breathe when he is stressed out, due to asthma attacks, and the presence of fish in almost every scene (on the walls, as ornaments) becomes more like a game of I Spy than a device that carries any real weight.

The secondary plot, involving Rosa, while giving the story more thrust is also over-cooked, tipping into melodrama that ill-serves the more reserved scripting elsewhere. The soap opera feel is also, unfortunately, emphasised by the way in which Plannell tries to pack in at least one too many revelations in the film's final third.

Yet, despite these wrong notes and although there isn't anything particularly new in this story of a couple in crisis, The Shame is still tightly written and beautifully acted. Mateo, San Juan (so good in 2007's Under The Stars) and Martínez bring a complexity to their characters that helps us to remain sympathetic even when they are at their most selfish. Stronger in its scripting than in its direction, there is, nevertheless, considerable potential on show, particularly in terms of Plannell's writing.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2010
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The Shame packshot
A couple on the brink of adoption, find themselves in crisis.
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Director: David Planell

Writer: David Planell

Starring: Natalia Mateo, Alberto San Juan, Norma Martínez, Brandon Alexander Lastra Cobos

Year: 2009

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Spain


SSFF 2009
Viva 2010

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