Pablo Berger returns with Paranormal Comedy ‘Abracadabra’

Taking advantage of a well-deserved holiday back at home in Madrid, the torrid Spanish summer invites to little else than finding refuge in a well air-conditioned cinema, catching up with the latest film releases, particularly those local or Latin American ones, which may find it difficult to get a theatrical release in the UK.

And no Hispanic title has been more awaited recently than Pablo Berger’s follow-up to his international festival breakout, ‘Blancanieves’. His new film, named after Steve Miller Band’s eighties classic ‘Abracadabra,’ takes a diametrically opposed turn from the stylish black and white and folkloric Spanish iconography, imbued in flamenco and bullfighting, that made of his take on the popular children’s’ tale such a success.

Abracadabra is a hyper real comedy that morphs into a concoction of fantastic genres, telling the story of Carmen, a housewife (Maribel Verdú who repeats with the director after her evil witch role) whose abusive husband (the ubiquitous Antonio De La Torre) gets possessed by a wandering spirit after an apparently flawed showcase of hypnosis performed by her clumsy cousin (comedian José Mota) during the celebrations of a family wedding.

This rather silly storyline, gets even stranger when a master hypnotist comes to the rescue and, following his advise, the protagonist trio finds out the spirit belongs to a former serial killer. A crazy search for a solution to get rid of the malign invader ensues.

The film has a contemporary setting in the typical Madrid neighbourhood of Carabanchel, a perfect location for a touch of neo realism that the director competently conjures, claiming it as a tribute to the influence Almodóvar’s ‘What Have I Done To Deserve It’ has had on his filmography. Berger later uses less accomplished, darker in tone, flashbacks to the Spanish capital’s colourful eighties while giving clues about the spirit’s identity.

A Spanish release in the middle of August, a month traditionally reserved for a massive exodus to the coast, and with no sign of festival premieres, was perhaps a good indicator of what could be expected: a rather mainstream, at times heavy-handed, comedy that is becoming a hit with Spanish audiences but whose appeal may be rather limited for international ones. Its genre concoction also brings to mind Alex De La Iglesia’s latest works, departing from well-observed, everyday scenes to progressively snowballing into an increasingly bizarre and outlandish plot. And even when it has its charms, it won’t make the memory of Snow White go from our minds any time soon.

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