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'Bendito Infierno' is beyond salvation

February 04, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Agustin Diaz Yanes' "Bendito Infierno" ("Blessed Inferno"), the third offering in the Viva tu Cine! series of Spanish-language films being released in selected theaters in the Los Angeles area, is a disappointment, especially since it features international stars Penelope Cruz and Gael Garcia Bernal along with well-known Spanish actors Victoria Abril, Demian Bichir and French diva Fanny Ardant. None of these gifted performers is able to overcome the dire material.

It is an unpersuasively contrived, tedious and murky heaven and hell allegory that labors mightily to be amusing and witty. Diaz Yanes imagines heaven to be a black-and-white Paris, where one of its characters (Ardant) operates a large nightclub right out of the '40s or '50s. Hell seems to be a vast, overheated subterranean prison whose chief executive is one Jack Davenport (Bernal). (In this hell, everyone speaks English, and it seems to be populated entirely by Brits and Latinos speaking English with heavy accents.)

Meanwhile, Earth seems to be Madrid or another large Spanish city, where punch-drunk fighter Manny (Bichir) has been told by his doctor that he must retire or risk death if he enters the ring again. Sensing that he probably will take that risk, Davenport and Ardant's Marina dispatch emissaries to fight for Manny's soul; indeed, Marina worries that heaven has so few new citizens that she might have to shut down. Marina's envoy is her club's over-the-top chanteuse Lola (Abril), who assumes the form of Manny's wife. Davenport sends his best operative, Carmen (Cruz), a tough, mannish woman. (One of Carmen's punishments in hell was to have been turned from a man into a woman). Carmen turns up at Manny's apartment as a cousin he hasn't seen since childhood.

What ensues is so glum and disjointed that the film becomes an even bigger mess. It has been trimmed by 10 minutes from its original 118-minute running time, which may have something to do with why "Bendito Infierno" is so incoherent.


'Bendito Infierno'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Some violence, language, mature themes

Victoria Abril...Lola

Penelope Cruz...Carmen

Demian Bichir...Manny

Gael Garcia Bernal...Jack Davenport

Fanny Ardant...Marina

A Vive tu Cine! release of a Casa Nova Films presentation. Writer-director Agustin Diaz Yanes. Producers Edmundo Gil Casas, Bernardo Herrero, Eduardo Campoy. Cinematographer Paco Femenia. Editor Jose Salcedo. Music Bernardo Bonezzi. Costumes Sonia Grande. Art director Javier Fernandez. In Spanish, French and English, with English subtitles.

At selected theaters.

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