Intricate, profound and incredibly moving, Lino Escalera goes straight for the heart in her compelling debut CAN’T SAY GOODBYE

Film Still from CAN'T SAY GOODBYE

Lino Escalera delivers a compelling, thought-provoking and deeply moving debut CAN’T SAY GOODBYE

Lino Escalera goes straight for the heart in her compelling debut CAN’T SAY GOODBYE, a yielding family drama about two daughters struggling to come to terms with their father’s impending death.

CAN’T SAY GOODBYE tells the story of Carla, a self-destructive woman, who receives an unexpected call from her sister Blanca. Their father, whom Carla hasn’t spoken to for years, has been diagnosed with cancer and is given months to live. Carla refuses to accept this and decides, against everyone’s opinion, to take him to Barcelona for treatment. As they travel across the country in a desperate race to steal time, father and daughter share a journey of discovery, regret and closure.

Intricate, profound and incredibly moving, CAN’T SAY GOODBYE is a compelling family drama that focuses squarely on the emotional truth. While on the surface, this sounds like a film about death or cancer, Escalera delves much deeper to examine the weight of the past and the ways we communicate with one another. A dampened-down visual palette and fixed-camera framing help to transpose Pablo Remón’s multi-layered script into a stream of deftly constructed scenes that shelter the growing emotion. Pablo Trujillo’s suitably melancholy score also captures the ambiguous and relatable emotions buried within the story.

The real strength of the film lies in its trio of sterling performances. Veteran actor Juan Diego is devastating as the surly, stubborn and uncommunicative widower Jose Luis. Nathalie Poza is excellent as Carla, ramping up the seemingly midlife-crisis part into something much more powerful, while Lola Dueñas shines as Blanca, the upbeat, optimistic sister, who despite being a mother in her 30s with an unemployed husband, dreams of becoming an actress. All three bring life, breath and emotional authenticity to the characters to deliver a performance that pulls on the heart strings.

The intensity of the plot and the incredible performances from the cast make some of the scenes a little painful to watch at times. This is also a slow burner with Escalera choosing to build up tension slowly, which works well in some scenes but is frustrating in others.

That said, Remon’s carefully worked script cleverly brings out the humour buried in the bitter and painful situations to leave a compelling, thought-provoking and deeply moving debut with themes and characters that leave a lasting impression on the audience long after they’ve left the cinema.

4 out of 5 stars

CAN’T SAY GOODBYE screened at the Manchester Film Festival on 3 March 2018.