They’re smiling only in the flashbacks in Isaac (★★☆☆☆), a pensive Spanish melodrama based on the stage play El día que nació Isaac (The Day Isaac was Born) by Antonio Hernández Centeno. In the present, reserved lawyer Nacho (Pepe Ocio) and aspiring chef Denis (Iván Sánchez), long-separated childhood friends, reconnect in Barcelona after 16 years.
Nacho’s sexual attraction is unmistakable though unspoken. Sunny flashes back to their frolicsome youth show the closeness the two once shared with their third musketeer, Isaac.
Now, Isaac is long out of the picture, and even sunny days look grayer for Nacho and Denis. Both are desperately in need of something the other might help to provide. Nacho and his wife Marta (Maria Ribera), also an attorney, want a child but haven’t been able to conceive. Denis, who waits tables at the cabaret where his girlfriend Carmen sings (Erika Bleda), is seeking a loan to open his own restaurant.
Without too much ado, the two old friends come up with a lucrative deal for Denis to get his money, and Nacho and Marta to get the child they pine for, but the arrangement would involve Carmen being the surrogate mother who carries the baby.
It’s a knotty premise, pregnant with narrative possibilities and moral quandaries, yet yields flat results from co-writer-directors Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros, who opt for merely planting the camera and letting it roll as the actors plow through each scene as if onstage. Rarely, if ever, do edits or camera movement add a hint of dynamism to the succession of static shots trained on sets styled with all the personality of an Ikea catalog.
At least cinematographer Gina Ferrer offers longing exterior looks at the Catalonian capital, and lights the cast well. And every once in a while, the static camera lands on a beautifully expressive composition, like one shot of a couple on a bridge parting in opposite directions.
Among the lead quartet, Ribera’s steely Marta emerges as the most compelling character, a hard-working professional who shares her husband’s ambition, if not necessarily his yen for parenthood. Ribera makes Marta equally potent running hot or cold, whether engaging the object of her attraction, or icily interrogating potential surrogate Carmen.
Bleda has her moments portraying Carmen’s reasoned reticence about committing her body and emotions to this pregnancy, while Sánchez, playing Denis as a self-serving hunk well aware of the amorous effect he has on Nacho, doesn’t dig that deep but certainly looks the part.
“We never could say no to you,” Nacho tells him. “You just never wanted to,” Denis replies, summing up the imbalance of power between them, despite Nacho’s loftier social and financial status.
The linchpin of this four-sided affair, Nacho should be driving the plot, nursing his puppy-dog crush into something more complicated, while at the same time struggling with his same-sex attraction. But, like the flat visual presentation, Ocio’s performance registers as more posed than persuasive, leaving Nacho’s as the least involving thread, despite his role in this drama that ostensibly revolves around him getting everything he’s always wanted.
Isaac is available on DVD and on VOD platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and through cable and satellite providers.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!