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    Gaudi Afternoon

    Gender bent in Barcelona

    A perpetual expat's prospect of turning a quick buck morphs into Gender Studies 101, and the Barcelona setting of "Gaudi Afternoon," with Gaudí's fanciful architecture, barely compensates for a flimsy plot.


    Holed up in the as-yet-ungentrified port section of Barcelona is Cassandra (Judy Davis), a prematurely wizened translator of popular South American novels. To break the humdrum (and provide some easy cash to pay her landlady) she agrees to become private sleuth for Frankie (Marcia Gay Harden). Seems Frankie's husband Ben (Lili Taylor) has skipped town with some important stuff, "town" being San Francisco.

    Directed by: Susan Seidelman.
    Written by: James Myhre.
    Adapted from the novel by: Barbara Wilson.
    Cast: Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor, Juliette Lewis, Christopher Bowen, María Barranco, Courtney Jines, Pep Molina, Víctor Álvaro, Sergi Ruiz, Gloria Casas, Aitor Extravizz.
    Cinematography: Josep M. Civit.
    Maybe you've guessed already that Frankie's a transsexual and Ben's really a butch dyke that wore the pants in that family. Somehow there's also a kid involved, socially precocious Delilah (Courtney Jines). Then throw in bisexual magician Hamilton (Christopher Bowen) and his equally bisexual mate April (Juliette Lewis, who gets the last name of Schauers). Lighthearted suspense involving kidnapping Delilah fills the remainder of the film.

    Everyone's eager to corner Cassandra to be a fresh audience for their persona antics. So into this "family" she plunges, only to rediscover that she misses her own. It's back to Michigan to make amends with mom and dad for her years away.

    Director Susan Seidelman brings out a liveliness in the actors that makes you forget their contrived characters. But Josep Civit's photography is almost singlehandedly responsible for the attractive quality of the film.

    After all, how could you go wrong in Barcelona? It's Spain's most photogenic city. Most noted are the rightly famous constructions of Gaudí. Hamilton lives in Gaudí's Casa Milą apartment building, just down the street from Sagrada Familia church. Perched above the city are the tiled benches and forest of Gothic palm-tree arches at Parc Güell. The film's action darts between these, and the old port zone with dizzying rapidity.

    Ignored or reviled during his lifetime and despised by Franco's fascists, Antoni Gaudí I Cornet created Barcelona's most recognizable monuments around 1900, the same time that Europe was reveling in Art Nouveau. The Spanish version is called modernismo, and it was the style of choice for progressives, free thinkers and the nouveau riche.

    That's exactly the tie-in with this film's characters. Cassandra clearly slots herself in the tolerant camp, give or take a few fake vomit routines over Frankie's transgender status. Hamilton reels off eye-popping furniture prices, though it's hard to imagine how his drag-revue dive in Barcelona's barrio chino could support such a lifestyle. The remainder wholeheartedly pursue their own visions of gender and relationships.

    Thankfully the script's PC-ness partially acknowledges Catalan rather than Castillian Spanish as the base language of Barcelona. Too bad there aren't any locals among the principals — all Americans plus landlady Carmen (Maria Barranco), who sounds like she's from Madrid — if you don't count Sergi Ruiz as Hamilton's handsome assistant at the club.

    MARCH 21, 2003

    Reader comments on Gaudi Afternoon:

  • gaudi afternoon   from Alice, Nov 1, 2003
  • Gaudi Afternoon   from Cristina Garcia, Nov 5, 2003
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from Jane, Jul 18, 2004
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from Garry, Aug 26, 2004
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from Garry, Aug 26, 2004
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from , Sep 9, 2004
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from CM, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Gaudi Afternoon   from s, Nov 28, 2004
  • I've got something to say!   from twix, Oct 1, 2004

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