Starring: Betsy Blair, José Suárez, Yves Massard
Director: J.A. Bardem
Running Time: 99 mins
Main Street (Calle mayor) is a Spanish film about a man who takes up a bet with his bored friends to pretend to fall in love with a local woman unlucky in love in a small provincial town.
This is a very interesting film. Not least because it has a fantastically unpredictable story that hangs on a knife edge right to the last second, but also thanks to some excellent central performances, strong directing and an interesting insight into small town society that plays a far bigger role in the movie than you’d expect.
For me, the thing that really works about Main Street is undoubtedly the story. For no better reason than being bored, this man decides to take up this awful bet by taking advantage of one of the town’s loneliest women. However, given that he’s by no means the worst character in the film when it comes to morals, it puts you in as strong a dilemma as him when push comes to shove.
Coming to a head in the film’s excellent third act, the plot is perfectly balanced between your support for the main character, who isn’t entirely to blame, and the forces of good, which should see him get exactly what’s coming to him. As a result, the central dilemma makes for a fantastically unpredictable run to the finish, bordering on thriller territory that you wouldn’t ever see coming from the beginning of the movie.
And that’s one thing that I think is very important to know going into this movie: it’s worth the wait. Early on, things all seem a little too innocuous, and the opening act feels slightly irrelevant to the main story apart from showing you around the location. However, thanks to an excellently written screenplay and strong directing throughout, Main Street builds and builds throughout on a fascinating premise.
One of the other interesting things about this movie is how much it focuses on small town life. Whilst the central story about the relationship between the man and the woman and the crisis that arises as a result of his lies is thrilling and unpredictable, there’s some very strong neo-realist vibes to the film when it gives an insight into how the life of a small town works.
Effectively, everyone and everything revolves around the main street. Whether that be the daily business, recreation or local scandals and gossip, it’s clear that you can’t escape the importance of the main street.
On the one hand, that leads some people to boredom, going round and round in circles doing the same thing every day on the same street, but on the other hand, it makes everything that happens a lot tenser, given that there are effectively no secrets in the entire town, with the slightest inkling of drama immediately leaking out to the entire population, a fascinating theme for me that plays in brilliantly to the central plot.
Finally, a word on the performances. José Suárez is excellent as the man who must pretend to fall in love, bringing enough charisma and morality to the character that you don’t immediately hate him for his actions, as well as keeping his deeper thoughts mysterious enough to keep the film unpredictable. On the other hand, Betsy Blair is wonderful and sweet as the lonely woman, but with a very strong air of weakness and desperation about her, making the affairs that unfold throughout the movie all the more sad given she’s so lovable.
Overall, I really liked Main Street. It’s a slow-burner, but full of interesting themes throughout and a cracking finale. Thanks to some great writing, atmospheric directing and two very strong central performances, this is a very strong and memorable film, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.