Directed by: Sonia Herman Dolz | 97 minutes | documentary | Actors: Mario del Valle, Maruja Villareal, La Manuela, Gilda Love, Juan José Vara del Rey, Concah Marcos, Da Costa, Jordi Soler, Cabiria La Dulce, Mónica, Carmen de Mairena, Enrique Martí, Carmen Martí
For some people, the heart of Barcelona is not the Ramblás or the Sagrada Família, but it is all about “La Bodega Bohemia”. In this club transvestites of often old age perform in the most frenzied outfits, such as Mario del Valle. When he walks up to his fourth-floor apartment, which he shares with his equally elderly landlady Maruja, he is an old man who sighs and supports and only with difficulty conquers one step at a time. The way in which the camera closely follows this effort makes its struggle with gravity very tangible. But behold, when he enters the platform in “La Bodega Bohemia”, a miracle happens. There he is one of the stars who entertains audiences with song, dance and lots of naughty, knowing looks and quirky remarks. The energy and zest for life splash from him. And so it is with all the “stars” who perform there, including those who, like Mario, are well above retirement age.
The person who keeps everything and everyone together in this colorful microcosm is company manager Enrique. For a few decades now, he has been ensuring that the place runs smoothly, assisted by his wife Carmen and jack of all trades Jordi who also performs a song every now and then. Enrique not only ensures that customers and artists enjoy themselves, but also takes care of them outside the club. This goes so far as to figuratively adopt the mentally disabled Juan José. This middle-aged man used to come along with his mother as a customer, but since her death he has lived with Enrique and Carmen and is cared for by them. And when La Manuela, the old woman who sells cigarettes outside the store, is arrested again and fined, he picks her up at the police station and pays the fine for her. His place in heaven may be covered with velvet because of the naturalness with which he does all this.
It is clever of Sonia Herman Dolz that she has portrayed all these at first sight strange persons so lovingly that you sincerely mourn with them about the imminent closure of the center of their existence. They are eccentric, but certainly not portrayed as freaks. Quite the opposite is the case, you get admiration for the way they get through life, while sticking to who they want to be as much as possible. And the way in which the half-blind and almost deaf landlady Maruja coquettishly sounds the castanets, evokes exactly that beautiful mix of melancholy and admiration to which she is entitled, given her age and her musical talent. The confidence that the people have placed in the director by sometimes literally exposing themselves in front of the camera, she has responded beautifully with this funny, melancholic and loving documentary.