For a film featuring brutal dictators, the whitewashing of history, murder plots, revolutionary plots, labor camps, broken families, artistic bankruptcy, and rape, writer-director Fernando Trueba’s movie about movie-making is strangely frothy and upbeat. Is the point here that showbiz people can’t really afford personal principles, such that their acts of political heroism, however reluctant, shine out like stars? It’s unclear. What is clear is Trueba’s affection for his standout cast — led by Penélope Cruz as a Spanish actress who has returned to her native country to play Isabel the Catholic Queen in a piece of Franco-backed propaganda — and his fondness for the olde-tyme film industry and its denizens. And perhaps back then, it was enough to drench the screen with enough color, glamour, and character to leave the viewer dazzled (if unmoved), and leave it at that. Watching here feels akin to peeking at a private love letter from an artist to his art, an experience that will fascinate some and off-put many.
Length: 2 hours, 8 minutes