Poking fun Hollywood, and the golden age of movie-making in particular, Fernando Trueba’s The Queen of Spain laughs at the industry with the same affection and romanticism that Hail, Caesar! carried, to find that compatible balance between ridicule and adulation. Given this meta endeavour is set within the business it allows the filmmaker a licence to be overstated, and he uses that freedom in quite remarkable fashion, with an aesthetic almost as vibrant as that of which we saw in his enchanting, Oscar-nominated animation Chico & Rita.
Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines) has been presumed dead, but makes a shocking return to world of make believe by turning up on the set of the Hollywood blockbuster set in Spain and starring their most famous export, the fictional creation of Macarena Granada (Penélope Cruz) – a character who first graced the screen in Trueba’s The Girl of Your Dreams (1998), which works as something of a companion piece.
Again there’s a commitment to farcicality and surrealism, but this title is also grounded by its setting in a tumultuous political landscape, as we examine relations between the States and Franco’s Spain, with this production being filmed working as something of a bridge between the nations. There are more politics to be had on set, however, as rumours of who Granada is dating (Cary Grant, supposedly) do the rounds – or perhaps she has taken a liking to co-star Gary Jones (Cary Elwes)? Instead she only has eyes for production assistant Leo (Chino Darin), which they strive to keep secretive, despite the unwavering interference of those around them.
Impossible to define in any one genre – which is undoubtedly a good thing – The Queen of Spain is lacking in focus, as we crave a true entry point to adopt the perspective of and piggyback on as we delve into this haphazard, absurd world. Instead we drift between characters and a whole myriad of storylines, and while it’s complex in that regard, it enhances the notion of chaos, in this unruly, disorderly environment. But while analysing the way Hollywood operates, this title remains faithful to its Spanish roots, as an archetypal melodrama that the nation thrives in, and it’s so unreservedly self-referential with it.
When taking this playful approach, however, it does make for a title that doesn’t sustain its two hour plus running time, as films this farcical tend to work better when shorter, and thus sweeter. But Trueba never loses sight of his distinctive, irreverent tone, and as one character proclaims, “Portraying realism in Spain is an unrealistic pursuit” and this is a sentiment this entire project is built upon, and endearingly revels in.