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Living It Up (La gran vida)

Madrid bus driver Martin (Carmelo Gómez) is extraordinarily depressed — so much so that one day he simply stops his bus in the middle of traffic and walks away. Giving his housecat to an elderly neighbor, he fixes a final meal, puts on his best suit, and plans to leap off the towering Madrid viaduct — but at the final moment he's persuaded by a mysterious stranger, Salva (Fernando Valverde), to consider "living it up" before his final act in this earthly realm. Intrigued, Martin asks Salva what he means, after which Salva puts him in touch with a mysterious group of loan sharks and then brokers a short-term loan for one hundred million pesetas (taking a 15% commission). With only one week before the bill comes due — that being his own life — Martin casts aside all restraint, buying a massive house with a swimming pool (that he fills with champagne), driving around Madrid in a Porsche Boxster, and throwing an extravagant party, picking the guest list by tearing a page from the phone book. But just as Martin starts to enjoy "la gran vida," he meets seductive catering waitress Lola (Salma Hayek), an exotic Mexican chica with a fiery temper. Soon Martin forgets about his Faustian deal and pursues Lola — but as Salva reminds him, the sort of people he borrowed the money from won't accept excuses when he doesn't repay. With a clever script from Carlos Asorey and Fernando León de Aranoa, La gran vida (or Living it Up, in its English-language title) is a touching and human movie directed by Spanish TV veteran Antonio Cuadri (in his feature film debut). The strengths come from all areas — the trio of leading actors are enormously appealing, with international star Hayek, Spanish veteran Valverde, and popular Spanish leading man Gómez, and the script manages to be full of surprises, right down to the final moments. In addition, La gran vida, released in 2000, employs the widest array of digital effects yet seen in a Spanish movie — Gómez's scene atop the Madrid viaduct is a vertigo-inducing bit of digital trickery. Produced by Spanish production company Bocaboca, Columbia TriStar picked up the distribution for La gran vida, and their Region 1 DVD offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in the original Spanish (DD 5.1) as well as English and French dubbing (Dolby 2.0 Surround) and an array of subtitles. Supplements include trailers and a "making-of" featurette (in Spanish with English subtitles) that offers a lot of the normal luvvies between cast and crew, but also includes Hayek noting that her agents begged her not to do the film, and a curious distance between Hayek and her Spanish co-stars (Valverde, in a very un-featurette comment, says "She neither impressed me in a good or bad way." Ouch.) Keep-case.

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