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Sentimental/The People Upstairs

Peter Malone MSC  |  15 February 2021

SENTIMENTAL/ THE PEOPLE UPSTAIRS, Spain, 2020. Starring Javier Camara, Griselda Siciliani, Belen Cuesta, Alberto San Juan. Directed by Cesc Gay. 82 minutes. Rated M (Sexual references and coarse language).

In the 1960s, Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and the powerful film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, highlighted a trend of intense drama that revolved around guests to a home, tensions with (and between) the hosts, expressions of anger and frustration, and sexual overtones. It set the pattern for many dramas in the decades to come.

While Sentimental is in this vein, we are now in the 21st-century, in an apartment block in Barcelona, focusing on what seems to be a group of ordinary people. We are introduced to Julio (Camara, fine Spanish actor seen in Almodovar films, especially Talk to Her, and the series of The Young Pope and The New Pope), a music teacher supervising an exam. We are introduced to his wife, Ana (Argentinian actress Siciliani), a new rug being delivered and laid. So much, so ordinary.

Sentimental has a brief running time – and the action takes place over real-time for the drama, 82 minutes.

However, our sympathies are immediately tested when Julio arrives home. He seems prickly, sarcastic, ready to argue with his wife. We may judge him as irritatingly pompous. And our sympathies are with Ana, who is getting ready for the arrival of the visitors. She is busy about food preparation, dressing up, looking forward to showing them around the apartment.

Just as she is being persuaded, pressured, to phone and disinvite them, the doorbell rings.

The couple seem genial enough, Salva revealed as a fireman (to Julio’s sarcasm) and Laura, unexpectedly, a psychologist. But, it soon emerges that the reason they have accepted the invitation is that they are into group sex in their apartment upstairs and have decided that Julio and Ana are a likely couple to join them in these sexual activities.

Which means some intense discussions, the new couple rather debonair and carefree in their attitudes and discussions, Julio and Ana more reticent. There is some interest on the part of Ana, continual irony on the part of Julio. Our attitudes towards him may be changing somewhat as we watch him verbally fencing with the couple.

But, the latter part of the film turns into a therapy session, Laura taking over, asking questions, challenging the couple, getting them to reveal what they have been thinking and feeling – almost to the point of the breaking of the marriage.

Which means then that the audience has been closely observing the character portraits, the changing interactions, the challenge to morals and values, the new awareness of the marriage and relationships, and the question of where this would lead to.

Vendetta Films
Released 11 January
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media


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