Life Marks

English Title: Life Marks

Original Title: La vida mancha

Country of Origin: Spain

Studio: Berrota Films, Tornasol Films

Director: Enrique Urbizu

Producer(s): Fernando Victoria de Lecea, Gerardo Herrero

Screenplay: Michel Gaztambide

Cinematographer: Carles Gusi

Art Director: Carlos Bordelón

Editor: Pablo Blanco

Runtime: 127 minutes


Language: Spanish

Starring/Cast: José Coronado, Zay Nuba, Juan Sanz

Year: 2003

Volume: Spanish / Portuguese

Fito, a truck driver, and Juana, an administrative assistant, live under the heavy pressure of the debts he has to pay off. After ten years of absence, during which he has remained silent, Pedro, his elder brother, shows up in Madrid, freshly arrived from England and eager to spend some time there with the excuse of re-establishing the brotherly ties and settling an account from the past. However, we assume he has more down-to-earth and darker motives, like erasing his own footsteps to prevent being tracked down by the police and by his accomplices in the diamond-dealing business. While Fito muddles through life and tries to make money outside the household, Pedro gracefully takes on his role by looking after his son, Jon, while a powerful attraction appears between him and Juana. @font-face { font-family: "Arial"; }@font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math"; }@font-face { font-family: "Calibri"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; line-height: 115%; font-size: 11pt; font-family: Calibri; }.MsoChpDefault { font-size: 10pt; font-family: Calibri; }div.WordSection1 { page: WordSection1; }

Life Marks appears passionately divided between genre and melancholy. The recognized taste of its director, Enrique Urbizu, for Hollywood genres, and in particular for the generation of violence, is translated into a well-crafted script by Michel Gaztambide with a true crime-genre flavour and a good ear for popular speech, also based on hard-hitting dialogues spoken by credible characters. But at the same time it also wants to be a reflection about the passage of time, giving off a whiff of Zen. In this respect, the conversation about the dead and headstones in the oriental restaurant or the meeting in the park between the leading character and Charo, a former girlfriend from the neighbourhood and now a mother, are illustrative.
The story, scrupulously linear and at the same time circular – from the time Pedro lands to when he takes off – approaches the identity of two men who are brothers less through blood – in fact they are so only through their mother – than through mutual envy. It is made with an essential, direct, stripped-down style, although it does not turn up its nose at dreamscapes: that epilogue with Juana walking on the water showing a vision of Fito to identify Pedro as its dreamer. There is a symbolic, fetishist subplot exemplifying the subtlety with which these two a priori antagonistic dimensions are woven together: involving the underslip that Pedro, not knowing that Fito is married, sends him from abroad to give to ‘his favourite girl’. The little brother gives it to his wife, who does not put it on for her husband, but does for her brother-in-law, reserving it for him. Later, he clandestinely exchanges the cheap jewellery decorating the slip for real diamonds. When he leaves, instead of taking it with him as he had planned, he tells Fito it conceals precious stones and that he is giving it to them ‘as a wedding present’. In exchange, his brother promises not to exchange them for paper money.
The way the film works is, therefore, both traditional and elliptical; it is no coincidence that it is a ONCE lottery ticket that makes it possible to date the action to the early days of July 2002. Life Marks is firmly anchored in the peripheral urban Spain of the turn of the millennium, showing a very uncomfortable picture of unemployment queues, requests for advances, lorries transporting fruit to the other side of the French border being overturned, and so on. Rooted to this clear reality, it gives a poetic treatment to a dark truth hidden beneath the blanket of appearances: the ox-like Fito and the laconic, angelic Pedro are not so different. This can be seen because the younger man has imbibed the passion for cards from his much-admired older brother, who is no more than a master cheat, whose security and untainted appearance are down to training in repression. Exchanges of roles and life histories on planes and on the road – a correlation of the frustrations, internal bankruptcies and gestures of nobility concealing great betrayals – ultimately weave the structure of a film with a strong story including a deep meditation about second chances and loss.

Author of this review: Agustin Rubio-Alcover