Producer, music video director and documentary filmmaker, Cadiz-born Alexis Morante launches into a fiction feature film with ‘El Universo de Óliver’, a title that adapts the novel of the same name by Miguel Ángel González, who also participates in the script. An honest look at Spain in the 1980s, with which the director evokes the social outlook of 1980s cinema, having a spirit reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s emblematic ‘Count on me’ and that recalls that this decade was not easy for Spanish societyat the height of deindustrialization and other social and political changes caused by Spain’s entry into the EU.
Although it is an adaptation of a novel, It is impossible not to think that there is a certain nostalgic and autobiographical look in ‘Oliver’s Universe’, since it is set in 1985, at a time when the director was living his full childhood. A sensation that is highlighted more by having as the protagonist the pre-adolescent son of a family from Cadiz who leaves Madrid to settle in the old town of the father of the clan, in Campo de Gibraltar. From the moment Morante, who signs the script together with Miguel Ángel González (author of the book), Ignacio del Moral and Raúl Santos, chooses to have a working-class family as protagonists and that the setting is a provincial town, causes the film to be seen from a social perspective.
Beyond the bad decisions of the head of the family (also perceiving a subtle criticism of a patriarchal figure who already showed signs of wear and tear in the 1980s), ‘Oliver’s universe’ seeks to bring that spirit of social drama combined with the fantastic elements typical of the films of the timealthough the film is closer to ‘Count on me’, its child protagonists also evoke ‘The Goonies’ and ‘ET, the extraterrestrial’, especially in its sequences closer to reverie, which shows that hopeful look typical of childhoodwho is able to see the light even in the most adverse moments.
An endearing and honest look at those children of the Spain of the 80s and their families
That charm, plus the adult social approach, make ‘Oliver’s Universe’ an atypical proposal in the Spanish industryalthough more and more common, since Morante’s debut film follows the path laid out by Manu Gómez’s intimate proposal with ‘Once upon a time in Euskadi’, also a debut film that narrated that Spain of the 80s with a costumbrist look, also telling the rise of terrorism in the Basque Country from another perspective, under the gaze of Basque children from Andalusian families who came to the region in search of a better future.
Family feature film and social drama at the same time, ‘Oliver’s universe’ manages to be a remarkable proposal thanks also to its main characters. The young Rubén Fulgencio functions as a dreamy child waiting for Halley’s comet; while his parents, played by some wonderful Salva Reina and María León, reflect very well the situation of a working-class family in which the parent had so many aspirational ambitions that he forgot that there was no, as the saying goes, ‘building the house from the roof’, while Morante shows the strength of those mothers of the 80s, authentic superheroines who knew how to adapt to the changes that were to come; special mention for Pedro Casablanc, who recalls how important grandparents have always been in Spanish society.
It may not be that movie that revolutionizes the genre, but ‘Oliver’s universe’ has that special touch that characterizes productions in which a lot of care and dedication has been put into it. A remarkable first film that puts into orbit a director who has known how to look from another perspective at a decade as idealized as the 80s.
The best: The mix between fantasy and social drama.
Worst: At first it is difficult to start and place the public in the plot.