Written and directed by acclaimed Spanish director Jose Luis Cuerda, Tiempo después is a surrealist comedy which puts a magnifying glass on social, political and class issues. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the world has been reduced to just one building which houses the ‘establishment’, a place where the elite of society lives under royal rule. Outside of the building, deep in the forest, are hundreds of unemployed who are without resources and purpose. Tired of being belittled and looked down upon, José Maria attempts to sell lemonade to those at the Representative Building in hopes of getting a job. When he enters, he finds out that change is forbidden for fear that he would ‘lose his essence’. Having been met with hostility and rejection, Maria goes back to his home and plans a revolution in the hopes of changing the world forever.
A film which is layered thick with absurdist humour, Cuerda has created an offbeat comedy which relentlessly mocks people in power. Whether it’s the ineptitude of royalty, the narrow-minded hunger of the army or the disenchantment of the youth, no one is safe from receiving the brunt of Cuerda’s scathing screenplay. There’s a theatricality to both the writing and performances which sets aside subtlety in favour of brash monologues on neoliberal capitalism, and bombastic performances that lack any real emotional depth. Although the writing can at times be razor sharp with characters partaking in comically blunt conversations about life and death, there are times when it all becomes nonsensical mumbo jumbo.
One of the film's biggest issues is that every character becomes a vessel for Cuerda’s critique of certain establishments which makes it tough for the viewer to actually connect with anyone on screen. Without a connection, it becomes harder to get invested with the overall premise, as what started as a quirky satire on modern day issues gradually turns into a heavy-handed sermon about everything that is wrong with society. Still, there’s plenty here that’ll attract people who have yet to see any of his previous work. The directing is impeccable as ever, the cinematography is gorgeous and the music is appropriately kooky, matching the bizarre events that gradually unfold.
The set design also does a great job of telling the audience everything they need to know, with the brutalist decoration of the corridors inside the Representative Building evoking a prison-like environment where freedom is suppressed. In contrast, the camps in the forest act as a shanty town in which poverty is rife and life has no meaning. With regular propaganda being blasted from the speakers that surround the camp, we’re able to make modern-day connections with the way that the media try to control the way we all should think and feel. It’s an interesting approach which visually gives the film some authenticity to what it’s trying to say.Tiempo después is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and Cuerda isn’t afraid to voice his displeasure at those who wield power. Having a history of making political films about his homeland in the past, there’s no surprise that his trademark humour once again comes in tandem with his tongue in cheek derision for the establishment. It’s certainly not for everyone, and some themes can be a little hard to grasp due to their deep-rooted nature in Spanish society, but if you’re into the idea of a theatrical display of satire then this will be a welcome change from the usual.
CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOSE LUIS CUERDA / STARRING: ROBERTO ALAMO, BLANCA SUAREZ, INAKI ARDANAZ / UK PREMIERE: APRIL 5TH (HOME, Manchester)