Gracia Querejeta / 2015 / Spain / 98 mins
Part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival
This comedy-drama centres around the 40th birthday of veterinarian Elia (Maribel Verdu), who invites her family and friends to a party held at a luxurious rented villa. The guests include Elia’s mild-mannered sister Cati (Marian Alvarez) and her overbearing lawyer husband Juan (Antonio de la Torre), restaurant owner Ramon (Eduard Fernandez) and his frustrated pregnant wife Martina (Nora Navas), eccentric businessman Polo (Alex O’Dogherty) and finally, Elia’s ex-boyfriend, musician Mario (Gines Garcia Millan) who shows up with his fiancée, obnoxious actress Claudia (Paula Cancio). At a pre-birthday dinner, Elia reveals that she has won €140 million in the lottery. Whilst her guests publicly congratulate her on her success, they privately plan to get their hands on shares of the winnings. After Elia is involved in a devastating event on the night of her birthday, the guests blackmail her in order to receive the money.
Director and writer Querejeta initially establishes a light comic tone, with the first few clashes between the guests (particularly those concerning Claudia) being played for laughs. However, the tone slowly begins to change following Elia’s revelation, as the individual motives of each guest are revealed.
Querejeta is able to transition relatively smoothly from the more light-hearted beginning to the darker aspects of the narrative, particularly during the film’s third act, where Elia’s guests not only consider lying to the police, but also more is revealed concerning Elia’s past, revealing her to be just as troubled and morally ambiguous as her guests. The conclusion is also notable in its lack of compromise, instead showing how money can bring out the worst in people whilst providing little reassurance for the audience.
The only misstep Querejeta makes is her use of documentary-style interview segments with individual guests interspersed throughout the film. These interviews are clearly intended to be set after the events of the film and are not only narratively redundant, providing information about the characters that the main narrative itself already makes clear, but also clash with the gradual build-up of tension.
This issue aside, Happy 140 is a well-crafted, suspenseful yet darkly funny look at the effects money can have on a person’s sense of morality – and how it can also tear apart relationships.