Film review: Explota Explota

The opening of this year's ¡Viva! film festival was an explosion of colour and joy

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Perfectly timed both as a blast of vibrant colour just as spring arrives and a beam of joyful light in an otherwise gloomy-feeling world, Explota Explota was the opening film at this year’s Spanish and Latin American Film festival at Manchester’s Home venue.

Introduced on the night by writer-director Nacho Álvarez, this is, he explained, a “sort of Mamma Mia” but in Spanish and inspired by the music of the Italian pop superstar Raffaella Carrà instead of Abba. It’s a comparison which does this film a disservice.

Set in 1973 as Franco’s hold on power in Spain is coming to an end, the film opens with a tearful young Maria fleeing a wedding in Rome and heading back to Madrid to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Through some accidental encounters and forgivable coincidences, she ends up as part of a dance troupe on a late-night television show where she must battle to keep her dreams of being a dancer alive under the watchful eye of the television station’s head of censorship, who is determined that nothing gets on screen that might corrupt the minds of viewers, such as too much leg or a bit of cleavage. But little does she know that her handsome if slightly spineless new boyfriend Pablo is the son of the censor and might be next in line for the job.

Ingrid García Jonsson is superb as Maria, channelling a bit of Audrey Hepburn here and there, but the show is most definitely stolen by Verónica Echegui as her comedy sidekick Amparo, who has some of the funniest lines, delivered with great comic timing. And while many (me included) will be unaware of Carrà’s pop songs this doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the many brilliantly choregraphed musical numbers.

Of course, life under the Franco regime was far from fun and it could be argued the film deals a little flippantly with the repression that many suffered. But it cheerfully puts two fingers up to the censorship of the time, foreshadowing the real changes that were to come in the country in the ensuing years.

There’s still time to catch some of the films showing as part of the ¡Viva! festival, which is on until 7 April (

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