The City of No Limits

English Title: The City of No Limits

Original Title: En la ciudad sin límites

Country of Origin: Spain

Studio: Icónica Patagonik, Film Group, Zebra Producciones.

Director: Antonio Hernández

Producer(s): José Nolla , Antonio Saura

Screenplay: Antonio Hernández, Enrique Brasó

Cinematographer: Unax Mendía

Art Director: Gabriel Carrascal

Editor: Patricia Enis , Javier Laffaille

Runtime: 125 minutes


Language: Spanish

Starring/Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Fernando Fernán-Gómez

Year: 2002

Volume: Spanish / Portuguese

Víctor, a young astrophysicist, returns to Europe from Argentina, where he is currently living with his girlfriend. In fact, he goes to Paris to meet up with his mother, his brothers and their wives and children (and also the lover of one of them). There, they should face up to the imminent death of their father, Max, who is dying of cancer. Since he is convinced that his father's odd behaviour is not only a sign that he may be losing his mind, the main character obsessively tries to dig out the remote secret from the past that haunts the old man. His investigation leads up to a flood of ugly revelations; among them Max's homosexuality; the fight between his two oldest sons to control the pharmaceutical company he set up; and also the episode in which Rancel, who was his partner and his comrade in a cell of the Communist Party during Max's exile in the French capital, was betrayed by his mother, Marie, in order to prevent him from leaving. Not even Víctor is immune to this catharsis, because the adulterous relationship he once had with Carmen, his brother Alberto's wife, is also disclosed.

With one of the most erratic and stimulating careers in Spanish film-making of the last 30 years (consisting of barely a dozen titles, including feature films for the big screen, TV films and other hybrid formats), Antonio Hernández only managed to leave behind the making of television shows and establish himself in the industry, devoting himself entirely to directing fiction, on the basis of the critical and relative commercial impact of Lisboa (1999). Free, perhaps because of his long small-screen experience, from some very widespread prejudices in the Spanish creative world about whether it is appropriate to respect public taste and seduce audiences, Hernández always makes a virtue of a careful audiovisual technique, forging a modern, attractive style. He also has well-defined favourite themes (the tense universe of family sagas, relationships between sex and power, the weight of inheritances on children, all the more so when they are revealed to be stained with blood) and a clear desire to take risks, in the form of mixtures of genres and imbalances of tone that are not always well resolved.
In writing the script for The City of No Limits, the film-maker collaborated with the veteran critic, scriptwriter and occasional director Enrique Brasó. The idea of the film goes back to the beginning of the 1980s. This explains its thematic continuity with certain narratives, appearance and discourses fundamental to the Spanish cinema of late Francoism and the Transition: on one hand what was known as metaphorical cinema, exemplified by Carlos Saura – hence the contribution of Brasó, author of the first important monograph on this director, and the presence of Geraldine Chaplin; on the other, the coded (more hermetic) story with a pattern instituted by the Víctor Erice/Elías Querejeta duo in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). The result is as curious as it is stimulating, moving between eras. In accordance with his eclectic spirit, Hernández opts for a bold, risky plan verging on fantasy, and for comic moments, but this is effective in as far as it puts across to the spectator the leading character’s feeling of adventure in identifying with his father and submerging himself in his crazy mental universe.
The film opens with a memorable prologue in which Max’s pronunciation of his lover’s name while allowing a button to fall establishes the enigma (in a clear nod to Citizen Kane’s ‘Rosebud’) and it closes with an ambiguous ending. In between it keeps up a reckless pace marked by a majestic melody (courtesy of Víctor Reyes) as it develops its tangled, melodramatic and intriguing plot. Under all this, and between the lines, beats the pulse of an emotional process of a father’s discovery and rehabilitation through his son, in the last great performance by Fernando Fernán Gómez. The City of No Limits is, ultimately, the first text entirely imbued with the ethic of that controversial concept so central to contemporary Spain that has come to be called Historical Memory.

Author of this review: Agustin Rubio-Alcover