On March 14 of this year, the film Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Spanish Affair) hit theatres in Spain and quickly became the most viewed current Spanish film. Over the summer, it was given English subtitles, but it is unlikely that this movie will get the audio dubbing typical of American films to be shown in Spain.
It is not particularly a bad thing that the film remains subtitled, for it has a large amount of cultural references and stereotypes that are nigh incomprehensible to the average English speaker. Translation error and inexactness amplify this issue.
Take the title as an example. In Spanish, it is “ocho apellidos vascos,” literally “eight Basque last names.” The chosen English title, Spanish Affair, does not presume people will know that those in Basque Country show that they and their family are Basque by their last names.
Though a romantic comedy, this film does not shy away from political unrest nor ignore regional differences within Spain, electing instead to make a point about them. The lack of English audio will help deter those with merely a passing curiosity while allowing people knowledgeable about Spain to enjoy this movie’s witticisms.
Ocho Apellidos Vascos starts out in Seville, Spain where Rafa (Dani Rovira), a man who has lived in Spain’s southernmost autonomous community (home to Spain’s largest political divisions), Andalusia, for his entire life, works as a bartender and waiter. Rafa soon encounters, argues with and falls for Amaia (Clara Lago), a stubborn and outspoken woman from Basque Country in Spain’s north.
However, after knowing each other for less than a day, the couple is split when Amaia leaves Seville for her hometown.
When Rafa discovers that Amaia left her purse at his house, he decides to track down Amaia to return it, hopefully winning her heart in the process. Against the advice of his friends, Rafa takes a daylong bus ride and rather creepily appears on Amaia’s doorstep.
At first, Amaia wants nothing to do with a man so desperate as to track a woman across the entire country but changes her mind upon realizing that her father is in town.
Amaia does not wish to disappoint her father by not having a Basque husband (something her father has always wanted for her), so she has Rafa pretend to be her boyfriend and a native of Basque Country. Here begins the true comedy.
Up to this point, Rafa and Amaia have been portrayed as the stereotypical representatives of Andalusia and Basque Country, respectively, two images as diverse as those of a Texan cowboy and a Wall Street businessman.
The remainder of the movie follows the two through humorous encounters and cultural misunderstandings. Throughout the movie, Rafa manages to accidentally light a dumpster on fire, incite a riot, get thrown in jail, break into a house he claimed was his, pretend that the house’s unsuspecting owner was his mother and generally make a mess of things in a comedic fashion.
Amaia, having the advantage of understanding the expectations of her hometown and its nationalistic tendencies, fares somewhat better, though she does make a habit of climbing out of windows.
If one is in search of a light-hearted comedy requiring little knowledge of foreign affairs, Ocho Apellidos Vascos would be a poor choice.
Though it is a great movie given the viewer has some background information regarding Spain, if this is not the case, then most of the humor is lost and the movie is degraded suddenly to a mediocre romantic comedy at best, or perhaps even demoted to a simple love story with little comprehensible comedy to be found.
Strangely enough, Spanish Affair is not a particularly good film, but Ocho Apellidos Vascos is a stellar picture for its intended audience.