In „La Reina de España“ („The Queen of Spain“), veteran director Fernando Trueba portrays a country on the cusp of opening itself up to the world following the end of the international embargo against the Franco dictatorship. But the new winds of modernity are nothing more than quaint decoration, as the wounds of the Spanish Civil War remain ever present.
The protagonist of The Queen of Spain is Macarena Vidal, a renowned Hollywood actress – played in real life by Penélope Cruz – who returns to Spain to star as Queen Isabella in an American-produced film about the Catholic Monarchs of the 15th century. Upon learning of the upcoming film, director Blas Fontiveros (played by Antonio Resines), who had not set foot in Spain since fleeing the country 18 years before, also decides to return and catch up with some of his old friends from the Spanish cinema scene. The return from exile unleashes a series of problems that involve both the retrograde security apparatus and political atmosphere of the Franco regime, which will do whatever it takes to protect the status quo.
Surely it must not have been easy for Trueba to string together stories so seemingly disconnected. What is certain, though, is that the film falls time and again into moments of predictability, relies too heavily on easy jokes and exploits classic clichés without adding a new perspective. All of this, when mixed together with a pseudo-homage to Spanish cinema, is hard to digest.
Ultimately, the film ends without resolution: its air of social and political commitment remain vague, and the attempt to create a film-within-a-film is also wobbly. Only the intertwining love stories between the radiant Penélope Cruz and a young cameraman who is part of the underground anti-Franco resistance give the viewer something to grasp onto and maintain the tension of the plot.
The film, which was included of the Berlinale Special Series and was not up for any awards, received discrete applause at its showing. The Queen of Spain is actually a sequel to La niña de tus ojos (The girl of your dreams), one of the most successful comedies of contemporary Spanish cinema. Perhaps the expectations were too high – almost as elevated as its sovereign title. One also expected something more from the spectacular cast, featuring great actors from Spanish cinema like Javier Cámara and Antonio Resines.