Catalan writer-director Cesc Gay has adapted his hugely successful play Los Vecinos de Arriba (The Neighbours Upstairs) for the big screen.
Julio and Ana have been married for many years. On a night when their daughter is sleeping at a cousin’s, Ana decides to invite the upstairs neighbours, Laura and Salvo, for a drink and some tapas. Julio, returning from work, is unimpressed to hear this news, so they proceed to have the kind of polite, articulate, grammatically-correct, yet vicious argument, that only married couples can have.
Then the neighbours arrive…
Gay takes the unusual choice to film it very much as a play, rather than adding more cinematic elements. It’s a not unprecedented choice: Altman did it on several occasions, very successfully. Anna Pujol Tauler‘s production design, paired with Mariona Ferrer‘s meticulous set dressing, have given Gay plenty of minutiae to work with. Each plate, lamp, or olive, adds its weight to the narrative and the humour. And in true Big Lebowski style, the rug plays an important role!
Front-and-centre of this project, of course, are the four actors. Javier Cámara (The Young Pope; The New Pope) gives us a Julio whose disappointments in life translate to bitterness and endless sarcasm. Argentinian actor Griselda Siciliani portrays all of Ana’s contradictions and complexities with just the right comedic touch. Alberto San Juan clearly revels in the role of Salva, whose charmingly open take on sexuality combines with his social naivety and lack of boundaries, to ignite the comedy. And Belén Cuesta (Kiki, Love to Love) delights as Laura, the earnest yet relentlessly sunny, psychologist.
Undoubtedly, many people will see themselves and/or their partners, in this narrative. Spanish cinema does three things particularly well: crime, comedy, and sex. The People Upstairs has none of the first element (although the waste of good food is possibly a summary offence!). It does though, have ample amounts of the other two, albeit that the sex is just talked about rather than demonstrated.
This is true laugh-out-loud comedy, with a sophisticated, grown-up foundation.
The People Upstairs opens on February 11th