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Son of the Bride

Nominated for a ‘Best Foreign Film’ Oscar and a huge hit in the Spanish-speaking world, Juan Jose Campanella’s Son of the Bride is an irresistible comedy whose inherent sentimentality is offset by some sharp humour, superb performances and trenchant observations on Argentine society. Campanella’s favourite film is said to be Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and Son of the Bride is equally optimistic in the way it finds redemption for its middle-aged family man who is suddenly confronted with a life crisis. Rafael (Ricardo Darin) is a chain-smoking workaholic who runs a Buenos Aires restaurant and can’t find enough time for his nearest and dearest, including a much younger girlfriend (gorgeous Natalia Verbeke of Jump Tomorrow), a lovely daughter, and Spanish-immigrant parents who founded the restaurant business and are now in need of their son’s help.
Campanella loads the film with melodramatic devices and cliches, but the quality of the dialogue, performances and direction save the piece from the kind of self-pitying schmaltz Hollywood might have produced from the material. Even Son of the Bride’s most outlandish device, which has Rafael’s mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and a guilt-ridden father who wants to give his ailing wife the church wedding they never had in their youth, is handled with such grace, humour and feeling that the effect is genuinely moving rather than cloying. It helps that the elderly couple are played by the wonderful Hector Alterio and Norma Aleandro, the stars of Argentina’s earlier Oscar contender, The Official Story, who give their roles a sense of history and unforced tenderness. That the Catholic church refuses to sanction the couple’s second marriage ceremony brings out the razor-sharp wit of a Billy Wilder that lurks behind the Capra corn in Campanella’s cinematic personality. ‘God is neither man nor woman and is neither black nor white,’ a sanctimonious priest tells Rafael. ‘That’s not God,’ Rafael retorts. ‘That’s Michael Jackson.’
(Argentina-Spain, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 123 mins.)

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