Malena es un nombre de tango (1996) from Tuna

Malena es un nombre de tango (1996), or Malena is a Tango Name, is the story of a girl (Ariadna Gil) who lives in the shadow of her perfect twin sister, Reina, so much that she secretly prays to become a boy, because she feels she has no chance to compete with Reina, a model child who seems destined to become a perfect woman. At age ten, Malena she gets a confidence boost when her grandfather, for no apparent reason, gives her the last family heirloom, an uncut emerald, on the condition that she must never mention it to anyone, including himself, and that it could someday save her life.

We follow her through puberty and her first sexual experience, which ends abruptly, through a succession of  lovers, and a marriage. After she has a child, her husband leaves her for her sister, and keeps her child. This film also did not have subtitles, and there are many plot details I couldn't decipher. It is based on the novel of the same name by Almudena Grandes, the same woman who write Las Edades de Lulú. The book is described as follows:


Gil shows breasts and buns in several dark scenes.

This is the avidly awaited third novel by Almudena Grandes. The significance that  "Malena is a Tango Name" brings forth within her exceptional literary development does not escape anybody. Perhaps it will amaze many to find out that Almudena Grandes has not eased off in her literary project or forsaken the boldness with which she undertakes each of her books.

Certainly, it is not easy to overcome either the rapture of such an awesome success like the one obtained with "Las edades de Lulú" - which has been translated in nineteen countries and of which nearly one million copies have been sold around the world - or the immediate splendid welcome of "Te llamaré viernes", her second novel, translated also by several of her now staunch foreign publishers. But all this appears to make no difference to Grandes in that each novel, as is the case with "Malena", is a new literary and personal adventure, a challenge which takes place without consequently having to abandon the literary world which is hers, ruled by her personal obsessions and her own style.

Malena is only twelve when her grandfather hands down to her, without any reason nor right, the last treasure preserved by the family: an old uncut emerald of which she will never be able to speak, because one day it will save her life. From then on, this confused and bewildered girl, who prays in silence to become a boy because she feels that she will never live up to the ideal standard of Reina, the perfect woman, begins to be suspicious that she is not the first Fernández de Alcántara unable to find a suitable place in the world around her. So, she secretly embarks on the difficult task of disentangling the labyrinth of secrets which beats under the gentle skin of her family, an exemplary bourgeois family of Madrid. Under the protective shadow of an old curse, Malena learns to reflect herself, as in a mirror, in the memory of those who thought themselves cursed before her, and finds as she reaches maturity, a reflection of her own fears and love in the succession of imperfect women who preceded her. She finally discovers that there is no curse other than life itself, and no fault other than daring to live it.

not available on region 1 DVD
As near as I was able to follow, the film was faithful to the book. Gil is considered one of the most important Spanish actresses, and for good reason. Not only is she good on the eyes, but her performance was very strong. This is, in many ways, a chick flick, in that many women can relate to the situations Malena faces, and, as in all her work, Grandes builds her story around strong female characters.

The Critics Vote

  • no major English reviews on line

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: 338,000 admissions were purchased in Spain. Accounting for the population difference, that's equivalent in popularity to a film doing $15-$20 million dollars in the USA.
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 high C+.

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