You Have to Come and See It Review: Jonás Truebas Delightful, Gently Profound, Summery Spanish Snack

In Spain there is a tradition called “la hora del vermut” (the vermouth hour) which refers to a little stretch of time before lunch when you sip vermouth to prepare your stomach for the meal to come. Spanish director Jonás Trueba’s “You Have to Come and See It,” one of the late-breaking joys of the Karlovy Vary competition, only just crosses la hora mark, but it is as sociable and swiggable as a draught or ten of sweetly fortified wine. In fact, it’s an aperitif that proves so satisfying, so simple and sunny and sage, that you might find yourself filling up on its drowsily erudite, oddly nourishing pleasures and forgetting about lunch altogether.

Even the opening titles are a zippy, witty delight, popping up onscreen in time to a skittery uptempo piano piece which, as we learn by the burst of applause that cutely occurs just as Trueba’s writer-director credit appears, is being performed live by pianist Chano Domínguez in a Madrid jazz club. Paradoxically, the pace then slows right down, as Trueba allows Dominguez’ next piece — a peri-pandemic composition titled “Limbo” — to play out in full, while lingering in turn on the faces of our four characters.

We don’t know their names or relationships yet. But these leisurely portraits, shot in Santiago Racaj’s appealingly warm-toned Academy-ratio images, give us surprisingly intimate access to them as individuals: It’s funny how much you can tell about a person by watching them watching. There’s Elena (Itsaso Arana), rapt and attentive, whose glasses give her a vaguely owlish, intellectual air. There’s her rumpled partner Daniel (Vitor Sanz), a little less transported, a little more fidgety. There’s dark-eyed Guillermo (Francesco Carril), nodding gently to one of the composition’s hidden rhythms. And there’s his pretty partner Susana (Irene Escolar), who is enjoying the show but also, it seems, the company, glancing over at the others and smiling.

Just when you think the whole film is set to be some sort of experimental essay on spectatorship, the concert ends and the foursome turn back to their table. In the course of their beautifully naturalistic, well-observed conversation (Trueba’s script was workshopped with his four actors) we come to understand that the two couples go way back, though they had recently been seeing less of each other. Partly, that’s because of the pandemic. Partly it’s because Guillermo and Susana — who reveals she is pregnant — have recently moved out of Madrid to a country town nearby; their new house is the “it” they maintain that their old friends “have to come and see.”

The conversation is warm but slightly wary. There remains a little grit in the gears of their social interaction, which must be immediately recognisable to anyone who has felt the rustiness of reconnecting with close friends after a prolonged separation. Later, back in their apartment, reading in bed like they’re in an early Woody Allen movie, Elena and Daniel debate the pros and cons of going for a visit. Daniel, an artist prone to doodling restlessly in biro, grouchily suggests that the insistence of Guillermo and Susana’s invitation is actually a coded rebuke for not making the same life-stage choices that they have.

Six months on, however, they’re on the train from Madrid one midsummer afternoon, while Bill Callahan’s fantastic “Let’s Move to the Country” plays. Later, Daniel will hum a few bars of the song: The movie is full of these little crossovers and curlicues, as fragments of prose-poetry and literature and music slide from the soundtrack into the characters’ mouths and back again. It’s as though the film is a collective unconscious where ideas and themes tumble about and bubble to the surface via different modes of expression.

More straightforwardly, the rest of the story is simply that visit. There’s a house tour, an al fresco dinner, a game of doubles pingpong and a walk in the overgrown meadow nearby. Elena gets a thistle stuck in her sandal.

That’s about as high as the drama gets. “You Have to Come and See It” is less about plot than mood, and despite its lightly-worn intellectualism, less about ideas than ephemeral, evanescent experience: a kind of present-tense nostalgia. When Elena insists on reading out the last page of the book she’s enthusing about (“You Must Change Your Life” by Peter Sloterdijk), it doesn’t feel like we’re expected to grasp its political and philosophical complexities. Rather, the sequence exists for how the other three react: Their sidelong glances, their suppressed amusement, their affectionate “that’s so Elena” tolerance.

As with any film featuring white, heterosexual, bourgeois Europeans strolling in the sun talking without embarrassment about art and ethics and suchlike, the spirit of Eric Rohmer hovers benignly. But it ends with a Godardian flourish: the image switches to grainy 8mm to reveal Trueba himself giving direction, the sound guy dangling his boom mic, the actors — who haven’t seemed to be acting at all — breaking character between takes. It’s as if to say, look, this lovely, gossamer afternoon we’ve spent together has felt real in a way that only something as unreal as a movie can feel. And if that doesn’t make much sense, well, you have to come and see it.

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