In the Spanish comedy “Isla bonita” (“The Pretty Island”), the filmmaker Fernando (Fernando Colomo) accepts a friend’s invitation to spend some time at his home in Menorca and shoot a documentary about the Mediterranean paradise. Fernando is getting over his third divorce, worried about finding work and feeling down on life in general. He’s a hopeless romantic yearning for something — or someone — to love. “Everything is just falling apart for me,” he frets in a matter-of-fact way that would make Woody Allen proud. “Life sucks.”
But Menorca proves to be a remedy for his woes, at least for a while. Soon after arriving, Fernando falls for an artist, Nuria (Nuria Román), who sculpts, paints and lives her life with a purity and freedom he can only dream about. He doesn’t understand how she is able to make art for its own sake, instead of a paycheck. Her daughter, the twentysomething Olivia (Olivia Delcán), is caught in a tiff between her boyfriend (Tim Bettermann), who has come to the island to spend his vacation with her, and her ex (Lluís Marqués), who is a local. And Fernando’s friend, the magnanimous Miguel (Miguel Ángel Furones), is trying to figure out how to break things off with his wife (Lilian Caro) because their relationship seems to have run its course.
Colomo, who also wrote and directed “Isla bonita” (this is his 20th film), came up with the idea for the movie while vacationing on Menorca. Most of the cast is comprised of nonprofessional actors, with improvised dialogue, which gives the comedy an uncommon intimacy and freshness (the humor is observational, not built around gags or situations). The stakes are refreshingly low and the pace is breezy and laid-back, much like life on the island. In other hands, the picture could have evaporated into a sweet bauble, an amiable ramble to nowhere.
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But Colomo, a veteran filmmaker whose performance as the restless Fernando earned him a Goya nomination (Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars) earlier this year, imbues “Isla bonita” with so much warmth and compassion that the movie leaves a mark; it imparts a contact high. The plot is too slight to withstand much scrutiny, and the story takes some improbable turns (Olivia’s boyfriend problem, for example, is resolved in a way that stretches credibility). What happens in “Isla bonita” isn’t as important as the movie’s convivial spirit and mood, which manage to make even the subject of suicide humorous. When a mopey Fernando tells Nuria he’s too depressed and distracted to properly live his life, her response couldn’t be simpler or more direct. “In the end, you have to try.”
Cast: Fernando Colomo, Nuria Román, Olivia Delcán, Miguel Ángel Furones, Lilian Caro, Lluís Marqués, Tim Bettermann.
Writer-director: Fernando Colomo.
Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity,adult themes. In Spanish, Menorquin and English with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.