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Pueblo Review

on Mon, 07/18/2011 - 00:00

Woody Allen is a New Yorker through-and-through, and for close to 40 years, the acclaimed writer/director used the Big Apple as the setting for his films and incorporated the backdrop of the city in numerous scenes. This is most evident in the 1979 feature Manhattan, which was filmed in black-and-white and served as a cinemagraphic homage to the city itself. In 2005, Allen broke with tradition and began using European locales for his movies, including London (Match Point), Spain (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Paris (Midnight in Paris). In addition to being critically applauded for their narratives, each of the films also served as “postcards” for their respective cities with key architecture and landscapes featured prominently.

While not as ambitious as a Woody Allen film, the web series Pueblo contains many of the same ingredients that have served Allen so successfully through the years. Conceived by two Americans teaching English in the small Spanish town of La Puerta de Segura, the series itself follows an American named Ben (Ben Raznick) as he adapts to life in the same city under the pretext of having arrived in Spain to likewise teach English in the local schools. In reality, however, Pueblo is just as much of a “love letter” to the area as Manhattan was to New York, while its narrative is a classic Allen-esque tale of love, discover and the search for personal meaning in one’s life.

Creators Eve Richer and Ben Raznick utilize the surrounding area of La Puerta de Segura effectively, highlighting many of the elements that define the small Spanish town. Yearly-held festivals and celebrations serve as the backdrop for many of the episodes of Pueblo, while the lifestyle of the residents is given proper recognition in brief explorations of the economic fabric of La Puerta de Segura, including the olive and asparagus industries. In fact, each installment of Pueblo features a brief “brought to you by” message containing a component of Spanish life. Richer and Raznick even use local townsfolk as actors in the web series, giving the production a local flavor to go along with the main “fish-out-of-water” narrative centered on American Ben.

While Ben himself may not be modeled on the traditional main protagonist of a Woody Allen film, the character has an innocent charm about him nonetheless and a sly comic wit in terms of observation. “As soon as I got off the bus, it smelled like olive oil,” he remarks in the first episode. “I had a meeting with someone at the school at noon to talk about my new job but I guess I missed it. There’s nobody at the school right now and it appears to be siesta time.” Ben also has a more contemporary version of the flighty Annie Hall in Eva (Eve Richer), a pseudo-girlfriend who has remained in the United States. “I feel like I’m having an existential identity crisis,” she tells Ben via web conferencing. “Or I don’t even know. I’m kind of torn ’cause I feel like I’m having a post-modern conceptual crisis.”

“So you’re having a crisis because you don’t know which crisis you’re having?” a confused Ben replies back, to which Eva responds, “Right, exactly. Thank you. You are the only person that understands me.”

Just as the two main female leads of Vicky Cristina Barcelona find themselves drawn to an attractive and exotic Spanish male, Ben likewise develops a relationship with a local beauty by the name of Erika Martinez. Their budding and volatile romance serves as the crux of the main narrative within Pueblo, but complications arise late in the series as Ben’s assignment in La Puerta de Segura winds down and Eva announces that she is coming to Spain for the summer. Like Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Ben realizes in the end that the journey of self-discover is both long and arduous, with brief encounters along the way that turn into mere memories as the road continues to be traveled.

Of course, in the Wood Allen film, Johansson’s Spanish love interest is portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Javier Bardem. In Pueblo, meanwhile, Ben’s female counterpart Erika Martinez is a mannequin head. While the use of the inanimate object is never acknowledged within the episodes, the device adds another Allen staple—the offbeat comedy—into the web series, and in the hands of creators Eve Richer and Ben Raznick, it is effective. “I say, ‘Erika, when I go back to the U.S. I’m going to put you in my suitcase,” Ben tells the camera in episode four of Pueblo. “But that’s silly. I’d have to buy her a seat.” In a later installment, he discovers a pregnancy test in Erika’s purse and confronts her, only to later lament about the difficulty of conversing with the opposite sex as the mannequin head simply stares back in his direction with a blank expression.

“Foreigners rarely visit Jaén when they travel to Spain, so we thought it would be interesting to document our year there by creating a show about it,” Eve Richer explained to AlexandriaNews.org in June 2011 in regards to both the region where La Puerta de Segura is located and the seeds of Pueblo. “One of the benefits of living in a small town was that it was easy to get to know people and learn about the culture,” Ben Raznick adds. “In the show everyone is very welcoming to my character when he arrives, and luckily that was true for us in real life too.”

In the 1985 Woody Allen classic The Purple Rose of Cairo, Mia Farrow falls in love with a character—Tom Baxter—from the latest major motion picture playing at the Depression-era theater in her New Jersey hometown. When Baxter literally breaks down the “fourth wall” and walks off the screen and into Farrow’s life, the two begin a romance just as unlikely as that between Ben and Erika Martinez from Pueblo. “I just met a wonderful new man,” Mia Farrow remarks in The Purple Rose of Cairo. “He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.”

Fortunately the same does not hold true for Pueblo—with its cinemagraphic use of small town Spain, unique wit, overabundance of charm and effective use of the offbeat, this romantic comedy web series does indeed have everything, and then some.

Anthony Letizia (July 18, 2011)

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