Film Reviews

The Zero Effect

When it made the rounds of the gay and lesbian film festivals last year, Km. 0 (Kilometer Zero) found itself the winner of several audience awards -- prizes voted on by festivalgoers themselves for the film they happened to enjoy the most. The ensemble-cast Spanish comedy couldn't arrive at a better time. For not only has the cultural atmosphere become more "gay-friendly," but a "people-friendly" movie -- which this gay-straight ensemble piece most certainly is -- is a welcome relief from a season of silly sequels and an overall attitude that the only thing worth filming is something that's blowing up.

Km. 0 takes its name from a popular meeting place in Madrid's central "Puerta del Sol" area. It's an attractive none-too-crowded plaza. But as the filmmakers show, what makes any city special are the people who live in it, and the ones who come and go herein are a nicely mixed assortment. What holds it together is a refusal to regard gay lives as any less deserving of respect than straight ones, bolstered by a disinclination to regard sexual pleasure as degrading in any way.

When Marga (Concha Velasco) a bored well-to-do housewife is shown calling up a male "escort service" for a bit of afternoon delight, the filmmakers refuse to make her a figure of fun, even when she comes to suspect that her trysting partner may be her long-lost son. Likewise, Tatiana (Elisa Matilla), a tougher-than-nails easily enraged hooker, isn't treated as a neorealist cliché but rather as an opportunity for romantic invention. And indeed she isn't, any more than Silvia (Merce Pons) is a typical ambitious actress; it isn't every aspiring starlet who'd go so far as to throw herself in front of a moving car driven by an important theater director (Georges Corraface) to score an audition.

Alongside such high-intensity histrionics, the film's gay characters appear relatively becalmed. When Benjamin (Miguel Garcia) scores a date via the internet with Bruno (Victor Ullate Jr.), it looks like a typical gay male dalliance. But when a suddenly smitten Benjamin decides he wants to turn a casual sex date into a real relationship, the film smoothly shift gears toward tenderness.

It's this same disinclination to judge that allows Km. 0 to move from raucous comedy to bittersweet romance -- often within the same scene -- and even allow enough dramatic wiggle room for a musical number featuring "Maybe This Time" -- a song I for one never thought I'd care to listen to ever again, even in Spanish. But that's what separates good films from bad.

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David Ehrenstein