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Don't Tempt Me
Written/Directed: Agustin Diaz Yanes
Staring: Victoria Abril, Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Fanny Ardant

Heaven or Hell? They Both Seem Kind of Cool

There is this one scene in Don't Tempt Me which sums the whole movie up for me. The CEO of hell (Bernal, the sexiest piece of meat on film today) is having dinner in the squalid apartment of an insignificant boxer. Across the table from him is his arch-rival, the chairman of heaven (Ardant, the stylish adulterer from 8 Women). Joining these two are the angelic Lola (Abril, from Pedro Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) and then demonic Carmen (Cruz, from a plethora of horrendous movies in the past year or two) who are in a fierce battle over the soul of the boxer who's apartment they all now occupy. Suddenly a pack of gangsters burst in through the front door and all hell breaks loose (oooh look, a pun). I know what you're thinking: "That seems abundantly ridiculous, but somehow kind of cool and interesting." Well, that's how the entire movie feels. It constantly borders on absurdity, but never quite crosses over. The director, Agustin Diaz Yanes, does a nice job of holding the reigns of his own script and never lets his own cleverness get the better of his movie.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive

2003

American Splendor
Don't Tempt Me
Magdalene Sisters
Garage Days
Dirty Pretty Things
Buffalo Soldiers
The Sea Is Watching
Garmento
Capturing the Friedmans
The Eye
28 Days Later
Spellbound
Cowboy Bebop

Washington Heights
Better Luck Tomorrow
Confidence
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Spider
Spun
Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
Chaos
The Quiet American
XX/YY

2002

Intacto
Empire
Max
Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Barleby
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Curve
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace
Storytelling


The Spanish of late have been making some pretty high concept movies. Last year's Intacto also had a crazy premise to it, and much like Intacto, Don't Tempt Me was nominated for a slew of Goya awards (that's the Spanish Oscar, not some Mexican bean cook off) including best supporting acter (Bernal), Best Lead Acrtress (Abril), best Director and best picture. It lost almost everything to the Nicole kidman flick The Others.

What's neat about Don't Tempt Me is how so much of the movie makes sense without being a cliché. The scenes constantly shift between heaven, hell and earth. The ways in which Yanes has decided to present these three realms feels obvious while also being completely original. He sets all of heaven among the streets of 1930's Paris and shoots it in black and white with all of the heavenly dialogue in French, for example, while hell is set in the arid deserty parts of Spain and all of its speech is in English. While something like that would never have occurred to me, watching it, it all seems to make perfect sense.

Also rather than being representative of all that is good or evil in the world, heaven and hell are treated more as rival industries in a fierce competition. Neither Mariana D'Angelo (Ardant) nor Davenport (Bernal) seems to much care for good or evil as institutions. In fact there is no real mention of good or evil anywhere in the movie. The only way that one can really distinguish between the hellions and the angels is in the observation that the 'good' guys are all extremely stylish, while the 'bad' guys are all extremely sexy. Again, the notion that heaven and hell aren't representative of the opposing forces in the universe is not a totally original idea, but presenting them as companies competing in the same market is new to me, but makes perfect sense.

Technically the movie is surprisingly good for how small a budget European movies generally receive. The opening is jarring and cool, almost a little too cool, but it sets the pace and style of the movie well. And where the demarcation between good and evil is intentionally vague, there are pointed differences in how the three worlds are filmed. Each realm has its own style, gritty, harsh filters and jerky camera movements for hell, long sweeping track shots, and soft focus for heaven, and clever but comparatively banal tricks for earth. This juxtaposition works well, providing atmosphere, but also letting the audience know which world a scene is set in instantly without any explanation.

The Ratings

One gigantic can of Play-Doh

What really holds this movie up is its imagination. The premise and the execution are completely original. While it falters a little towards the end and becomes confusing as the environment clashes with the standard movie formula, it is still one of the most interesting ideas this year.

One poorly translated title

I don't know who at First Look Pictures thought it was a good idea to translate the title, or at least translate it to this, but 'Don't Tempt Me' is one of the chunkiest sounding names for a movie, and one which has very little bearing over the actual plot itself.

One steaming pile of boy

There is no denying how unbelievably hot Gael Garcia Bernal is. Even in Amorres Perros and Y Tu Mamma Tambien when he sports one of those ugly mexi-staches (soft downy black hair falling down your upper lip like a cheap dime store comb) he's still tooth-ache cute. In the scenes where he has to speak English he does suffer a little, but those are relatively scarce. When he's speaking Spanish, however, the words fall from his mouth like fine bourbon being poured over ice and when he smiles that awkward gap-toothed smile you realize you can now die happy.

Three hell bound hipsters

While it has its share of problems, especially towards the end, Don't Tempt Me is undoubtedly the most imaginative movie to come out this year. Add to that a stunning ensemble cast who obviously had a ball making this movie, and a well-managed script by Writer/ Director Yanes and you have a perfect movie for anyone bored of the explosions, super heroes and sequels we've been plagued with these past couple of months.

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | August 2003 | Issue 41
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