Álex de la Iglesia’s “As Luck Would Have It” features, in supporting roles, Salma Hayek and Carolina Bang, two of the most ravishing and talented Spanish-language actresses to ever grace the screen. Most viewers are well aware of Ms. Hayek, who has aged gracefully into Hollywood’s demeaning mother-ghetto for actresses over the age of 35. Few know of Ms. Bang, who was the centerpiece of de la Iglesia’s last film, the criminally-insane “The Last Circus.” Both command the screen with old school Hollywood glamour and mature sexuality, and yet neither manages to obscure the machinations of de la Iglesia’s sharp media satire. This, as Queen once sang long ago, is a kind of magic.
Jose Mota is Roberto, a one-time ad exec who hasn’t had success in many moons. Unbeknownst to his supportive wife, the couple are in dire financial straits, Roberto long living off the reputation gained from an old Coca Cola slogan. Reduced to begging and groveling at his former bosses’ knees, Roberto soon realizes he has no job prospects. The cosmic joke of the film, unspoken, seems to be that Roberto seemingly bottomed out without a natural talent for advertising, and whatever reputation he has garnered was a fluke. The irony, of course, is that these callous suits lack what the enterprising Roberto brings to the table, courtesy of his Coke tagline: “the spark of life.”
Despondent, Roberto flees to the location of his honeymoon with his wife, where one absent-minded misstep lands him on his back, seriously injured but conscious. Lying on his back, Roberto maintains his motor skills, but he cannot move. He is impaled, a sharp nail sticking out from the ground, embedded in his head. Cops descend, but none dare to pry him loose, until medics provide a diagnosis: they could remove Roberto from the nail, but if he is pried loose in the wrong direction, he will die. The story of Roberto’s misfortunate circulates, now attached to the circumstances. Soon, a media circus erupts over his captive state, reports circulating that his career had been failing and that he may have attempted suicide. The location de la Iglesia picks is not unintentional: all parties involved realize he’s fallen on somewhat sacred ground, a landmark of sorts where Roberto’s freedom could involve desecrating ancient ground. From Roberto’s perspective, as we see various onlookers and media outlets observe, the area he occupies is shaped very much like ancient Coliseum bleachers. He has become the star of his own show, the story of his death, Ancient Rome-style.
Wife Luisa (Hayek) eventually descends, though she is soon swarmed by the vultures of the press (among them Ms. Bang). As Roberto moves in and out of lucidity, they fight over exclusive access both to an interview with him or her. The ghoulish lengths they’ll go to procure official footage and soundbites overwhelms Luisa: one reporter openly muses on a much higher cost for an interview if he were to die.
De la Iglesia’s setup harkens back to “Ace In The Hole” but with a much more humanist bent: with his life on the line, Roberto immediately starts thinking dollar signs, knowing the cynicism of the media can be exploited to finally give he and his wife the life that will please her. But Luisa is the film’s heart, and this attitude pierces her, as she fights against the reporters’ obvious interest in Roberto’s possible death. De la Iglesia, in the middle of what some may consider a career-long roll, continues his commitment to stark, realistic humanity in heightened, blackly comic situations. The absurdity of Roberto’s predicament, while handled with good humor, is played with an entirely straight face — his argument as to whether Brad Pitt or George Clooney in a movie adaptation is as much a product of his pop culture cynicism as it is about his hopeful recontextualization of this unlucky scenario. There may be no boogeyman in sight, but de la Iglesia uses Hitchcockian music cues and camera angles to emphasize the morbidity of Roberto constantly being moments away from death, with surrounding onlookers subtly rooting for his demise. Mordantly funny and sharp as a razor, “As Luck Would Have It” is one of the treasures of the Tribeca Film Festival. [A]