★★★★ - STUFF
- A smart, genuinely funny and tightly written comedy of very bad manners -
In their smart and spacious apartment, Ana and Julio are bickering. Again.
The couple have been together 15 years and we sense that arguing is the last channel of communication between them that might convey anything meaningful. Julio (Javier Camara) is defensive, cowering behind a prickly hedgerow of sarcasm and cynicism, deflecting anything that makes him uncomfortable with a joke or a putdown.
Meanwhile, Ana (Griselda Siciliani) is just weary. Weary of being a woman in her 40s who can't so much as buy a new rug for the apartment without Julio mocking and belittling her for her actions.
But, Ana has invited the new neighbours from upstairs to visit, to repay some half-remembered favour from months ago. Julio is against the idea, saying he will embarrass them all by telling the neighbours that he can hear every detail of their enthusiastic bouts of sex and could they please tone it down. But arrive they do.
It's odd to pass on that the first half hour or so of The People Upstairs is completely taken up with us wondering whether Julio will make good on his threat and tell the seemingly lovely Laura and Salva (Belen Cuesta and Alberto San Juan) that they are shaking the paintings off the downstairs walls. Or will discretion prevail?
But, soon enough, the guests let rip with a series of their own revelations that makes Julio's irritation seem positively quaint – and the real business of Cesc Gay's screenplay (an adaptation of his own play) is revealed. It is not Laura and Salva who are going to have to answer the awkward questions tonight. It is Julio.
The People Upstairs unfurls over a lean 80-minute running time. There are only four actors and, except for a few brief establishing shots, all of the action is confined to the apartment and the hallway outside. Gay's screenplay is an economical and delicious thing, packed with twists and turns. Not all of which you'll see coming.
While it never threatens to plumb the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf depths that beckon, the film is still occasionally barbed enough for us to feel some real sympathy for the characters.
But, for the most part, this is simply a smart, genuinely funny and tightly written comedy of – very bad – manners. Not knowing what to expect, I enjoyed it a lot.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
The People Upstairs is now playing at Light House Petone and Cuba
R16 - Sexual references & offensive language. In Spanish with English subtitles.