‘Amador’ is quiet but powerful

Flanked by formidable cast mates, actress Magaly Solier steals the show.

Amador 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amador 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amador is a movie from Spain that, given its plot, should be unspeakably depressing but somehow manages not to be. It’s a slow-paced film that is full of surprises, among which is the fact that although it spotlights the hard lives of foreign workers in Europe, it is not at all preachy about it.
While all the actors are excellent, it is Magaly Solier in the lead role who does the most extraordinary work. This Peruvian actress, who also starred in the acclaimed films from her home country, Madeinusa and The Milk of Sorrow, has a quiet but commanding screen presence.
She is also appealing, and you understand what she is thinking at every moment. After the movie, I found myself thinking about her at moments as if the character were actually someone I knew and not someone I saw in a film. Solier is so gifted, that you identify with her utterly, no matter how remote the character she plays may be from your own life.
In Amador she plays Marcela, a young illegal Peruvian alien in Madrid. As the movie opens, Marcela has decided to leave her brash, egotistical boyfriend, Nelson (Pietro Sibille). Nelson, also an illegal from Peru, has a business where he steals flowers from a processing plant where they are distributed and gives them to other illegals to sell on the street.
But then Marcela discovers she is pregnant. Although she doesn’t tell him, she feels she has no choice but to stay with Nelson. As they weather a crisis in his business – the refrigerator he uses to store his flowers breaks down – she gets a job taking care of Amador (Celso Bugallo), a bedridden elderly man whose family is off to oversee the construction of a new house.
The bond she forms with Amador is the highlight of the movie. He is melancholy and lonely, but the dialogue between these two people – the old man confronting death and a young woman who fears she faces a life of struggle – is fresh and believable. The screenwriter avoids clichés by creating characters that are quirky and vivid. Their interactions are halting and believable.
About halfway through the film, there is a game-changing plot turn that is not terribly surprising, given the subject matter. But the director takes the film in some surprising directions, adding some suspense and macabre humor along the way.
In the hands of a less original director, this would all be unutterably bleak, but writer/director Fernando Leon de Aranoa, best known for his drama about unemployed workers, Mondays in the Sun, has created a compelling if difficult-to-categorize work. It’s too funny and pointed to be mentioned in the same breath as the realistic, naturalistic films of the Dardenne Brothers, yet it shares their political point of view.
Like the Dardennes, Aranoa looks around hard at and doesn’t ignore anyone. Foreign workers from the Third World living in Madrid are as complex and unpredictable as the European characters in the film, and are not merely victims of imperialism and capitalism. Nelson, an illegal alien himself, also exploits other, less savvy aliens. No one in this movie is a complete villain or a blameless hero. The prostitute who visits Amador every Thursday, Puri (Fanny de Castro), is another character with mixed motives and an odd point of view. The actress, who has acted for Pedro Almodovar in such films as Volver, creates a memorable character out of what could have been a very dull stereotype.
Celso Bugallo, a veteran Spanish actor, is outstanding as Amador, infusing a passive character with charm and wisdom.
But it is Solier, who appears in virtually every frame, who dominates the movie. Film-acting students should watch her to learn what to do – and what to leave out.
While on paper this may not sound like a movie you would enjoy, it is almost inexplicably entertaining while you are watching it. If you are prepared for a quiet and precise film that deals with universal problems, then you will enjoy Amador.