Sentimental poses questions about modern intimate relationships, providing awkward and hilarious scenes in a tense comedy from director Cesc Gay.
The film plays like a work of theatre; in fact, it’s based on one mounted by Gay in Barcelona in 2015, from which the English title The People Upstairs takes its name.
It begins with the undeniably fraught premise:
”We can hear our neighbours regularly having riotously loud sex. They’re coming over for dinner now. Should we tell them that it bothers us?“.
Things quickly unravel, providing a glimpse into an ailing relationship in its middle years, warts and all.
Shot in Barcelona, and set over an evening in the apartment of Julio (Javier Cámara) and Ana (Griselda Siciliani); a middle-aged couple in their 15th year together. They bicker, exchanging verbal jabs in the opening scenes. It’s clear their relationship is strained.
The doorbell rings, and we’re introduced to their frisky neighbours, a similarly aged yet more free-spirited couple. Salva (Alberto San Juan) and Laura (Belén Cuesta).
Over the course of the evening, revelations are made that spark a relationship defining dialogue between Julio and Ana.
During its short 82 minute running time the film touches upon a range of ideas:
- Sexual norms, orgasms (and their source), orgies, monogamy, voyeurism and the blurring boundaries of what constitutes fidelity.
- Comparision and jealously between (and within) couples. The pressure to have an enviable sex life.
- Self-image compared to the reality of behaviour and having this questioned.
- Life choices that are shared; from the motives for purchases inside the home (Why do we need that new rug?) to having children and pets.
- Unresolved conflict and the accumulation of resentment.
- Career satisfaction, courage, fear and regret. Talent and squandered intellect. The stresses of work bleeding into our social lives.
- The merit of couples therapy, expressing needs healthily, and when does it make sense to end a relationship.
- Hope and sentimentality.
Whilst not probing many ideas with great depth, the film sprinkles many like popcorn across our laps and keeps on moving. It’s a fast-paced, enjoyable comedy, with some hard edges if you choose to run your mind over them.