One of the highlights of this year’s festival, Abracadabra is a constant delight, a joyous rollercoaster ride that demands to be seen.
Pablo Berger is no stranger to surprising his audience: his second film, Blancanieves, turned the story of Snow White into a silent epic with a matador backdrop. His follow-up, five years later, takes things in a completely different direction as it steamrolls through countless genres. Berger’s Abracadabra is the not-so-simple story of a housewife Carmen (Maribel Verdú) who lives with her brutish alpha-male husband Carlos and daughter Toñi in Madrid. After a haywire hypnotism at a wedding (yes, really), something – or someone – has appeared to have taken over Carlos’ body, and Carmen sets out on a madcap adventure to get to the bottom of things.
The film is built around a staggering lead performance from Maribel Verdú. Berger is establishing a terrific body of work with Verdú, who starred in his previous film as well. The actress, who is likely best known to international audiences for her terrific work in Pan’s Labyrinth, is at her very best here. It’s a difficult task to match the zany energy of Berger’s genre bending script, but Verdú is able to fully inhabit her character in every moment, putting a refreshing new take on the woman in crisis often found in women’s melodramas. It’s one hell of a showreel for the actress, who proves she can do just about anything, and she exudes a powerful charisma
The script consistently plays with genre, taking us through classical women’s melodrama, thriller, psychological horror, magical realism, and more. While Abracadabra is constantly changing shapes, it remains constantly hilarious throughout. Due to the constant shifting of tone, it feels as if the film is built around a series of crazy moments rather than a consistent, solid plotline. This is not to the films detriment however, as almost every single one of these scenes is executed with great success. Highlights include a builders crane and a chimpanzee, a realtors showing of an abandoned apartment, and a genuinely terrifying found footage sequence. It’s an exceptionally unique film, although similar in vein to Pedro Almodovar’s body of work – think What Have I Done to Deserve This on steroids.
Berger’s camera is consistently showy, which lends to much of the utter zaniness that Abracadabra is full of. It’s a wild, unpredictable, and utterly bonkers ride that is difficult to pull off, but Berger manages it with aplomb. This film is destined to be one of the highlights of the London Film Festival, and is well deserving of your attention. Berger continues to get better with each film, and is quickly shaping up to be one of Europe’s top talents. Unfortunately, the director takes an enormous amount of time between films, with only three films made in the last 14 years. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for his next effort.