After the death of his father, who ran a small knife sharpening and umbrella repair shop in Santiago, thirtysomething, self-described dandy Spleen (Luis Tosar, "Take My Eyes," "The Limits of Control") decides to make like his traveling grandfather and leave his mother's house and experience Mexico. But on his last night in his home town, he meets his feminine ideal - a bad girl with a fringe - and Katja (Nora Tschirner), a Russian, may make the difference in how a life is determined in "Spleen."
Borrowing from the playbook of Scorcese's "After Hours" but with a strong Spanish flavor, writer/director Alfonso Zarauza proves better with his subplot trinities than his central romance. "Spleen" features a solid performance from Tosar, but his relationship with Katja, which should be the heart and soul of "Spleen," never really sparks the way, say, his attempt to buy a loaf of bread does. Still, "Spleen" is notable for heaps of atmosphere and the Greek chorus of poetic friends who stay behind at the Tavern of the Dramatics when Spleen ventures forth with the Russian.
Although Spleen spends every night of his life in Luna's (Chete Lera, "The Galíndez File") tavern, he has promised his mother (Mercedes Sampietro) that his last night in Santiago will be spent with her. But when mama runs out of bread - their lifeblood - Spleen seizes the opportunity to get out of the house. But Spleen doesn't go to their usual baker - instead he visits the shop of his late father's former business partner in hopes of discovering the meaning of the cryptic, two-word note he left in lieu of a will. The bitter man refuses to sell to him and the regular baker, who holds a torch for Spleen, is out of bread. She suggests a third shop, run by a confrontational Asian. And so on his last night home, Spleen has been to two places he never goes before he's even arrived at his surprise going away party, which, like the bread stores, turns out to be the first of three celebrations.
Barely out the door, Spleen is kidnapped by three woman, who drive him around a square before dumping him off. Spleen, whose mother has just presented him with his dad's bowler, is dismayed to discover he's lost his hat, and so the two set out to find the rave the 'End of the World' kidnappers are headed to. But first, they stumble upon an outdoor dance for a local mental institution. By the time they do find the rave, they discover that Spleen's best friend not only has his hat, but has been pulling the strings of Spleen's evening. The problem is, once Spleen departs with Katja, Zarauza's film is more interesting flashing back to the buddies at the tavern, where they play a kind of 'telephone' with poetry lines.
Still, if Zarauza's romance never really catches fire, he's at least showered it with romantic atmosphere where rain is a constant and classic umbrellas are shot from above like a field of flowers (or Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent"). The tragedy which bookends the film is ironic, but also a downer not really in keeping with the rest of the film. Maybe it's a cultural thing. The good moments in "Spleen" are highly enjoyable, but the film as a whole is uneven.
Robin also gives "Spleen" a C+.
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