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Lisbon (1999, Spanish with English subtitles)

Director: Antonio Hernandez
Reviewed by Andrea Swanson

One misses, in this era of special effects and mega stars with bleached smiles and augmented chests, the simple and glorious art of story telling. Director Antonio Hernandez proves that there are still moviemakers who manage to produce absorbing tales by simply relying on smart scripts, keen cinematic sense and outstanding acting.

In Lisbon Hernandez details a day and night in the life of Berta, the elegant wife of an ambitious businessman. Berta, played by legendary actor Carmen Maura, is on the run from her husband. En route to Lisbon her car breaks down, and she hitches a ride with Joao, a lascivious porn video salesman (Sergi Lopez) who hopes his new passenger will add some zest to his otherwise dull and routine existence. The story, which takes place along highways, in gas station washrooms and at cafes, is a road trip that spices up Joao's life in a way he, as well as the viewer, could never have imagined.

Soon after the pair meet, the plot begins moving through a seeming endless series of hairpin turns. Joao discovers his anxious companion is carrying a gun and becomes suspicious that her reasons for flight are more complex than he'd thought. Deciding this sideshow is too big for him, he contacts Berta's family, an action that inadvertently draws him into a world of corporate corruption, betrayal and murder.

Lisbon isn't a nail biter, but one becomes obsessed with how events unfold. Every kilometre travelled by the protagonists increases the suspense, steering us unswervingly toward the film's tragic climax. Hernandez's even and well-paced building of tension ought to see him credited as a Spanish Alfred Hitchcock, and his interlacing of place and character is so artful, it's almost unnoticeable: Joao's shallow life occupies back roads and empty cafes where he peddles his unwanted merchandise, and Berta, indomitable, middle-aged and well dressed, looks lost and out-of-place as, in the film's second scene, she scours the vacant Spanish countryside for rescue.