Sunday, June 23, 2024

Movie Review (Cannes 2024): ‘The Other Way Around’ is Cinematic Therapy

Director: Jonás Trueba
Writer: Jonás Trueba
Stars: Itsaso Arana, Vito Sanz

Synopsis: After 15 years as a couple, Ale and Alex decide to throw a party to celebrate their separation, leaving their loved ones perplexed.

In his latest work, The Other Way Around (Volveréis), Spanish filmmaker Jonás Trueba delves into the emotional depths of a marriage potentially meeting its end. He navigates through some regularly seen tropes, gradually unfolding a metatextual ode to love in union and separation—the beginning and end of a beautiful relationship. Trueba’s exploration of the heartwarming and cruel nature of bonds and their necessity for personal growth resonates deeply. By blending reality and fiction, as well as wishes and desires, he transforms a standard narrative into a touching feature with many intertwining details, providing the film with a beating heart that captivates from start to finish. 

“We should do as your dad suggested” are the first words spoken in The Other Way Around. A couple – husband actor Alex (Vito Sanz) and wife filmmaker (Itasa Arana) – are now at a point in their life together where they believe there’s no return. Love has been lost from both sides or at least to some degree where they haven’t decided if they should (or shouldn’t) separate. This is where Ale’s father and his unique perspective on love come into play. He once talked about doing a party that celebrates a couple’s separation rather than union, or as Alex refers to it, a wedding but the other way around – saying the film’s title and coincidentally, one of the many winks at the camera that Trueba places from time to time. 

Ale says that this “celebration” can only be done if both parties are at the same emotional point, an answer that reveals to the audience that one of them is still holding on to the love they once had. We don’t know who the one out of the two who feels this particular way is, but there’s this hesitance beneath their breath when speaking about the topic. Sadness lingers as they laugh through the uncertainty and treat the party as a joke. Their minds aren’t clear; they don’t know what to do with their lives after all this. So, the two rush things and seek the opinions of others to see what they think of this weird scenario.

The reactions from their close friends and family range from “I don’t understand the concept” and “Did you both agree on this?” to “You will get back together eventually”. Of course, these aren’t the responses they seek – leaving them even more perplexed and in doubt about the whole thing. Is repentance going through their minds? Or are they just putting their emotions aside so that they can’t face their true feelings about their fifteen-year-long relationship? Their discussions may not even relate to the matter, but somehow it returns to the “celebration of separation”. An example of this is seen when they talk about a film they just watched. Alex and Ale differ on whether or not the film is an elegy of matrimony or a caricature of it. 

Their frustrations wiggle their way in if they should feel repentant about their current status and sights emotionally. The two actors got their teeth way too sunk in the material that it seems they were in love with one another before. Every single emotion they transmit comes off as palpable. Sanz and Arana aren’t doing screaming matches or melodramatic tenures for their performances; instead, they come off as grounded portrayals of a broken bond. Even if there are moments where fiction and reality intertwine, as Ale’s film continues to shoot, The Other Way Around remains true-to-life instead of relying too much on its self-referential elements regarding depicting the emotions felt by the characters. 

This makes each narrative beat feel full of vigor, with some necessary touches of gloom, as most relationships contain. The narrative so far has been pretty repetitive, with the two asking different people about the party and their thoughts. But this repetition gets a new meaning when Ale breaks the news to her father. He says that the idea of celebration separations doing good to both sides of the couple was told in passing. And that doesn’t mean they have to go through it. The man who came up with the idea has now backed away from it, leaving Ale feeling an array of emotions. 

It is here when, through Ale’s father, Trueba starts to meddle with the film and peel away the layers in the same way that Mia Hansen-Løve did in the brilliant Bergman Island.  The man recommends that she read a couple of books to ease her mind. One of them is ‘Repetition’ by Søren Kierkegaard. The Danish philosopher (under his pseudonym Constantine Constantius) talks about whether repetition is actually possible and the difference it has with recollection. Later in the film, a line is repeated from the book: “Repetition’s love is, in truth, the only happy love.” Kierkegaard mentions that what has been recollected has already been, hence the sadness that lingers upon remembrance. Meanwhile, repetition is recollected forwards. 

Trueba combines this line with the structure of the film. Each time Ale and Alex ask a person about the party, it is repetition. However, when they were alone, the two thought back to their early years, the “good old times”, subjecting themselves to recollection – threading backward and unable to solve their anguish. It is a brilliant tie-in that makes The Other Way Around go past its by-the-numbers procedure during the first act, done on purpose so that the film blooms into something rather moving. The second book is called ‘El Cine, Puede Hacernos Mejor?’ (translated as ‘Cinema, Can it Make Us Better?’) by Stanley Cavell. 

Ale’s father explains that Cavell’s arguments are based on classic comedies from Hollywood’s Golden Era – like The Philadelphia Story, The Lady Eve, and His Girl Friday (my favorite of the ones mentioned) – where the couples in these films give themselves a second chance. They don’t want to make the same mistakes but do things differently, better. Much like Walter Burns and Christy Colleran or Charles Pike and Jean Harrington, the man wants Ale and Alex to reconcile. The audience watching knows they are meant to be together; Ale and Alex complement each other perfectly, even more so than the characters from these screwball comedies. Trueba, just like Cavell, believes that cinema can help us be better people and heal our wounds. 

The film that Ale is making reflects her relationship with Alex. In this fictitious struggling marriage, one doesn’t want to continue the relationship (the character being played by her husband) while still having doubts about his decision. And it all circles back to the initial thought of doing what Ale’s father suggested. It is with this performance that Alex thinks clearly about the situation. Alex’s character and him intersect for one moment; reality and fiction meet at the point where this love story reaches the point of remorse. It is like a double-sided cinematic therapy session where the film and the movie insider help uncover the crux of their problems. Trube ties every narrative beat that felt loose or disjointed before and provides a new lens through which to see them. 

Both Ale’s and Trueba’s works have the same purpose and are constructed in the same manner. They are broken and without a correct rhythm until the inner workings of the narrative find their place. It is a brilliant execution of self-referential techniques and fourth-wall breaks. Jonás Trueba has always been quite experimental with his movies. But in The Other Way Around, he is more playful than before. The Spanish filmmaker develops a premise that seems simple on paper and begins to disorganize everything in a clutter that the characters must clean for themselves. It is pretty moving once you see the complete picture, the repair of something deemed broken – a comedy-drama combination about whether or not separation should be the first (and immediate) response to a relationship slowly failing.


Grade: B+

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