Alicia (Lucía Pollán) is sick and her foremost wish is that she’ll live to be 13 years old. If that can’t happen, she would like the Magical Girl costume from her favorite anime. Her father Luis (Luis Bernejo), an unemployed literature professor, would love to fulfill her wish but the costume is very expensive and he has no money. When his path crosses with Barbara’s (Bárbara Lennie), a psychologically labile but wealthy woman, he finds a way to blackmail her on an impulse, not knowing the lengths Barbara has to go to to get him the money, nor the countermeasures she will take.
Magical Girl is an atmospheric and well-constructed film that had me thinking about it for a bit afterwards. It’s not perfect, especially not when it comes to Barbara, but I enjoyed it.
Vermut really knows how to handle the information that is revealed about his characters, both what and when to reveal it and what to keep from the audience. [That also applies to the violence in the film – Vermut knows what to show and what just to suggest.]
That is also his main source of tension, always leaving enough mystery to keep the audience wondering and wanting to know what comes next, which slowly changes to a very strong suspicion where things will be headed and whether he will really go there. Only once does his concept not work: I felt frustrated that I didn’t know until the end what Damian (José Sacristán) did for Barbara. Maybe I was just dense that I didn’t realize it, but usually I’m not that bad at picking up clues and the film lacked a solution for me there.
Unfortunately, the film’s weakest point are Barbara and to some extent Alicia. Neither get a very active role. Alicia doesn’t even get to utter her wish directly, her father stumbles over her diary. [Her naive and unquestioning and rather ungrateful acceptance of her dress also didn’t ring very true to me – with 12 years, she’s old enough to be well aware that they don’t have any money and that the dress is expensive. I would have expected a little more happiness about the dress, even if the wand was missing.] But Barbara as a character fares even worse. Her life is run by the men in it, first her husband, then she gets to make one decision on her own which immediately leaves her at Luis’ mercy. Her solution to the situation again is only possible due to two other men. This goes so far that she is barely part of her own story.
Despite that treatment of its female characters, there was still something about Magical Girl that was engaging and captivating and that I enjoyed. Maybe Vermut’s next film will be better with its women and even more nejoyable.