Días Contados (1994) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoopy's thoughts in white:

This highly acclaimed Spanish movie (literally translated as "Numbered Days", as in "his days are numbered") is on a Region 1 DVD as "Running Out of Time". It is based on the eponymous novel by Juan Madrid, which was in turn a loose modernization of the opera Carmen. The movie maintains a certain affinity with the opera in that a street performer sings part of an aria from Carmen in one scene.

Although the director receives spiritual grounding from those Spanish roots, the style and theme of the movie is pure Luc Besson. Writer/director Imanol Uribe mirrors Luc Besson's style so closely that you'd think it was a Besson movie if it were in French or English instead of Spanish. Like Besson's La Femme Nikita and The Professional, it is a brilliantly photographed tres-cool character study of violent hard-core criminals and other lowlifes. It is different from simplistic TV treatments in that it breathes life into the seedy and despicable characters, despite portraying their sins graphically. If you read about some of these characters in the newspaper, like Besson's hit man Leon, or Uribe's terrorist Antonio, neither of whom has a last name, you would think they must be soulless beasts, but these movies examine them as the complex humans that some people in their professions must be.

Actually, if these films stopped at showing them realistically, I would be much happier. Unfortunately, they go past realism and actually romanticize them. That makes it difficult to remember that they are terrorists, hit men, and junkies, that the terrorist kills innocent bystanders and babies, and the junkies will all die young, ugly, and desperate.

Oh, well, I guess it's just a story, and a good one at that, with an appropriate surprise ending.

Antonio is a Basque terrorist who has been sent to Madrid with two confederates to blow up a police station. His cover is that he is a news photographer on assignment to portray a run-down neighborhood, therefore needful of detailed photographs of the neighborhood around the station. To avoid identification and scrutiny, he camps out in the kind of place where nobody asks any questions, a fleabag cash-only apartment building, where he ends up falling in love with one of his neighbors, an extroverted junkie prostitute named Charo.

The soul of the movie is the romance between Antonio and Charo, which is both steamy and loving. She initiates contact by taking a bath in his apartment and giving him (and us) some very explicit looks at her anatomy. They consummate the relationship in a romantically rococo Moorish hotel in Grenada, in the shadow of La Alhambra. The feelings stirred up by this relationship serve to force Antonio into a self-examination about his commitment to the Basque movement and its causes. He is a man numbed by violence for whom the relationship with Charo represents an emotional opening. For Charo, the soft-spoken and somewhat refined terrorist, who makes love to her sweetly, represents an escape from the drugs and tawdry, loveless sex that dominates her own life.

The film is somewhat inconsistent in the depth of its character studies. Although we get to know the two main characters and her best girlfriend, the rest of the characters in the film seem to be lurking around with uncertain motives, as if simply placed there to provide colorful set pieces in the background. The Basque has an ex-girlfriend popping up from time to time in the role of one of his confederates, but we don't really get much insight into why they ever were together, or why they fell apart, or what she is really like. On the other hand, I enjoyed some of those scenes with the undeveloped characters, just as I enjoy some of the offbeat characters that wander briefly into Besson's films.

Good film. If you like Leon or La Femme Nikita, I predict you'll like this as well, with the added benefit of plenty of steamy sex and nudity, but if you're like me, you will have a difficult time forcing yourself to forget that he is a terrorist. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life in this type of movie. Besson, for example, wants us to empathize with Leon, even though he is a professional killer.

DVD info from Amazon

Good movie, highly recommended as a rental, but the Region 1 DVD is not recommended for purchase

It is undersaturated, is not anamorphically enhanced, and the sub-titles are not optional, despite the fact that they impinge on the images.

  • widescreen letterboxed, 1.85: 1

  • "making of" documentary


Ruth Gabriel was naked several times, exposing all possible parts of her anatomy, including a gyno shot.

Elvira Minguez showed a beautiful pair of breasts when climbing into bed.

Candela Peña showed her breasts in a bathing scene.

Gloria Sirvent flashed one breast briefly.

Tuna's thoughts in yellow:

It is thematically akin to Carmen, in that the protagonists are a Basque terrorist and a hooker. Antonio (Carmelo Gómez) comes to Madrid to set off several car bombs, culminating in one aimed at police headquarters. He is posing as a photographer. His neighbors are a heroin addict named Charo (Ruth Gabriel) and her roommate (Candela Peña), who are sort of a prostitution "tag team." Charo strips and dances for the John, while the roommate sucks him off.

The terrorist and the hooker meet one day when Charo is locked out of her apartment. She ends up naked in Antonio's tub, and poses for him when he reveals his cover identity as a photography. She won't allow him to touch her, however, because she wants to be faithful to her boyfriend, who is in prison.

Gómez is smitten, and pursues Charo, which infuriates fellow terrorist Elvira Mínguez. From there, the story is evenly divided among terrorism and sex, all leading up to a fantastic surprise ending.

The Critics Vote

  • Días contados (1994) nearly swept the Goyas in 1995:

    Best Film (Mejor Película)
    Best Special Effects (Mejores Efectos Especiales)
    Best Supporting Actor (Mejor Actor de Reparto)
    Best Editing (Mejor Montaje)
    Best New Actress (Mejor Actriz Revelación)
    Best Lead Actor (Mejor Actor Principal)
    Best Director (Mejor Director)
    Best Screenplay - Adapted (Mejor Guión Adaptado)


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: despite all the awards, the Spanish gross was only $1.6 million


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B if you speak Spanish, a C+ if not. (Tuna says: Lots of nudity, a surprise ending, and a classic theme. What more could you ask for? B-)

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