This is a wonderfully droll, multi-story mosaic, done in the signature style of Jess Franco at his most satirical and ironic. The subject is the tourist city of Benidorm, Spain. A group of tourists arrive and interact with some of the locals in amusing, touching and curious ways. One of Jess Franco’s love-hate letters to the city which he obviously finds crass and tastelessly designed. The city is cubism gone Las Vegas, a le courbusier nightmare. At least as photographed by Jess Franco.
Below: Main title of an anthropological Beach Party film, Jess Franco style.
It also illustrates how he uses the camera, music, montage and his stock company for expressing his personal, very mixed, feelings about Spanish culture at a specific place and time. He finds Benidorm, its residents and visitors, exuberant, rude and funny. Antonio Mayans, also the production manager, along with his wife and children, play key roles in the film. In a way, this film reminds me of Robert Altman’s Country & Western music epic, NASHVILLE (1975), only done on a no-budget scale and shot in a few days. The overall multi-story structure, the equal focus on many characters instead of one or two, the cynical tone, the aesthetics are very similar. A group portrait of numerous individuals intersecting in a certain place at a certain time, with bittersweet results. Below is a translation by Nzoog from the opening narration, followed by a plot summary:
The summer season’s nearing its end and the sun now rises much later. The city awakens, slowly and sleepily. The police cars are doing their last round while the cleaning women are hurrying up, as the first customers, those foreigners who rise along with the cocks, will be arriving very soon. A few madmen practice jogging, while some visitors, presumably from the furthermost northern countries, have the courage to bathe at dawn. The dawn is a misty one; we’re Benidorm. And it will not take long for the sun to assert itself in its daily struggle against the mist. The first children can be seen in the streets; the departure of a circus troupe has been announced; and the first Benidorm girl starts her frantic day’s work. Also, the first tourist, camera in hand, starts taking pictures of the city’s most unusual corners. Her name’s Ana and she’s a typical product of Benidorm: one of many girls who came here and decided to stay. His name’s Philippe and he seems particularly interested in the city’s chaotic architecture. Also, hovering around the town’s leading hotels, the first local playboys have begun their quest for female tourists.”
In the tourist town of Benidorm, at the end of the summer season, several parallel stories unfold. Among the city’s visitors is Lola Clavijo, a Spanish Song performer who, in keeping with her professional image, insists on speaking with an Andalusian accent although she is from Murcia. During her stay, she becomes smitten by the charms of Curro, a penniless hustler who claims to be a marquis’s son. Curro has recently been ditched by his gold-digging girlfriend Ana, due to his lack of money. While skating around town in search of wealthy tourists who may take her abroad, Ana has several chance encounters with Philippe, a Dutch architect who is writing his doctoral thesis on the buildings in Benidorm. Ana decides to settle for Philippe in the belief that she will take her to Holland, although he insists that he is far from wealthy and no good for gold-digging purposes. Soon, their diversity in tastes draws the two apart and Ana returns to Curro, who has made away with the money and other property Lola Clavijo kept in her hotel room. The latter is horrified when she learns about the theft, but is relieved when it turns out that Marga, her sullen secretary, had kept the singer’s jewels in hiding. Marga finally imposes herself on Lola, telling her that she is to have no other lover than her secretary. Lola reluctantly accepts. Meanwhile, Tony, a local, manages to pick up a Frenchwoman by the name of Muriel. Although they are initially practically unable to communicate with each other due to the lack of a common language, a love affair blossoms between them. Muriel eventually learns more Spanish although she is somewhat put off by the old-fashioned Tony’s jealousy. Later, Tony learns that Muriel is dying but the two are willing to pursue their affair to the very end. Another strand concerns Paco, a bouncer and muscleman who is preparing for a sports competition. The body-builder rescues Charo, a streetwalker he has become infatuated with, from being assaulted by two thugs. Paco offers Charo, who has just been ejected from her flat, a room in his apartment. After some time, he expresses his desire to have sex with her; when Charo suddenly reveals herself as a transvestite, Paco brutally throws her out. Finally, however, he repents and resumes his relationship with Charo, offering to finance the latter’s sex-change operation if he wins the competition. Another of the town’s visitors is Juana, who arrives with her two small daughters, both of whom are given to asking for money in the streets so that they can spend it on video arcade games. Juana, long abandoned by her husband, discovers that he has found success as the drag singer Ángel Antequera. The artiste finally finds himself face to face with his family and returns to them.
[Thanks to Nzoog for the translation and plot summary]
Hopefully this very personal essay on a topic unknown to those who don’t know Spain or Jess Franco, but is universal in its human insight, will get a HD release it deserves. It looks like it is now up for a Blu-ray release from Dorado Films in the near future, on a double bill with CAMINO SOLITARIO (1983).
The cinematographer (Juan Soler Cozar) and the production manager (Antonio Mayans) share a moment at a sidewalk cafe below the bizarre architecture of Benidorm. The shady capital of Costa Del Sol tourism is a favorite site for cultural/aesthetic ridicule from Jess Franco.