Nathan Buck’s Under Spanish Skies gives off strong Swimming Pool vibes. I don’t mean the characters lounge about the pool all day, fun and fancy-free. No, the writer-director’s first film in over a decade seems heavily influenced in tone and atmosphere (not story) by the acclaimed but seemingly forgotten British/French thriller from 2003. From its tense, mysterious atmosphere to never knowing if any of the characters are speaking the truth, Buck’s dramatic thriller seems to be an homage to François Ozon’s intense title. Given how excellent it is, it’s hardly a bad thing for a film to bring it to mind.
Leah (Tara Lynn Orr) has summoned her best friends Beth (Tullan Holmqvist) and Gregory (Philippe Brenninkmeyer) to her Spanish farm. Leah’s husband, Neil, recently died, and she needs her friends there to say goodbye. Mind you, the gathering is not a goodbye to Neil; rather, it is to Leah as she and her husband made a suicide pact. Andrés (Amr Waked), who works on the farm, knew of this but was sworn not to tell anyone.
“…hidden past actions threaten to erode decades’ worth of friendship…”
Andrés’ niece, Alix (Nahéma Ricci), unexpectedly shows up after having a fallout with her girlfriend, throwing an unexpected wrench into the weekend’s plans. Now, Beth and Gregory feel forced to share secrets about themselves and Neil to dissuade Leah from going through with her plan. However, these hidden past actions threaten to erode decades’ worth of friendship and good times if divulged.
Under Spanish Skies is a lot of tense dialogue followed by steely gazes and mournful walks around the beautiful farmland. While that may sound like it’s more telling than showing (and it might be), Buck makes it work wonderfully. Each utterance under bated breath from the characters carries a heavy weight, while the setting seems poised to swallow everyone whole. It is all compelling stuff, brought to life by an intelligent screenplay and engaging characters.
The most interesting of whom is Alix. How she winds up the others, purposefully or not, and what she shows Leah throughout this time about life, helps cement the filmmaker’s themes in an unexpected way. To say more would spoil the story, so just know that in the end, whether Leah goes through with her plan or not, she was not the same person who agreed to that pact all those years ago.
"…gives off strong Swimming Pool vibes."