There has been much hype surrounding director Álex de la Iglesia’s previous film The Last Circus (2010), the film winning three awards at the Venice Film Festival and receiving some great reviews from doing the rounds at other festivals. So I was very intrigued by the director’s latest La Chispa De La Vida (Spanish title), which, incidentally, takes a look at hype and the sensation hungry media. Roberto (Jose Mota) is an unemployed advertising executive who is reaching a state of extreme desperation. He was once at the top of his game, coming up with the Coca-Cola slogan ‘Life’s Little Spark’, but after two years of no work and unable to pay his mortgage, Roberto resorts to practically begging for work from an old friend. After being turned down yet again, he goes in search of an old happy memory and ends up having a terrible and absurd accident in a very public place. Soon the media have got wind of the situation and are trying to get that all important exclusive. Shockingly Roberto begins to exploit his situation and himself to the media in order to attempt to get what he wants in life and secure a future for his wife (Salma Hayek) and his two children.
With a tendency to focus on the dark humour in life, this film has Almodovarian elements but unfortunately is not as astutely realised or as visually perceptive as the auteur. The story is rather straight forward and far more conventional than I was anticipating. However, the tension steadily built up surrounding the accident is palpable and I really was on the edge of my seat at some moments. There is plenty of humour, often at the expense of Roberto, and Jose Mota, a comedian, is brilliant as the desperate do-gooder, adding light relief to what could have been an extremely dark film. Hayek is not entirely convincing as Roberto’s housewife who has to wait helplessly by his side as doctors try to decide what to do and media moguls put a price on her husband’s life.
The tone of this film is a little confusing. It is clearly attempting to be a humorous satire but it has an extremely poignant tale at the heart of it, the two never quite fusing together well enough, the humour not funny enough and the poignancy not moving enough. There are an abundance of references to the circus with ‘it’s show time’ mentioned too. This overt parallel between the media and the circus is both unnecessary and slightly patronising to audiences.
For all the criticisms this is still a rather enjoyable film but could have, frustratingly, been a lot better. The physical humour is well executed and the central performance is full of depth. The children unfortunately are mere stereotypes. While it is acceptable for the media characters to be such, as that is the point of the story, the children should have a sense of authenticity to them and that is really lacking.
This is a sensational and ludicrous story that needs a little more reality embedded into it to make it emotionally engaging. Considering it was commenting on a real issue it felt extremely removed from reality. However, depending on how squeamish you are, this is an easy to watch film with a lot to enjoy and it does successfully get its message across, albeit in a rather heavy handed way. A playful drama that could benefit from a second viewing.
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Writer: Randy Feldman
Stars: Jose Mota, Salma Hayek, Santiago Segura and Nacho Vigalondo
Runtime: 98 mins