When going through TIFF’s exhausting catalog of options it’s it’s hard to say sometimes why a particular film’s story jumps out at you. It may be a subject in  which you are emotionally invested, a cast of your favourites, or maybe a great concept. For me (a complete Spanish cinema newb), Mi Gran Noche (My Big Night) simply caught my eye with the promise of unrestrained goofiness. And it delivered in a big way! 

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Mi Gran Noche picks up after weeks of taping a network New Year’s Eve special, and bring us to its final night of filming. The cast’s egos are causing no end to trouble (each wants a guarantee that they will be the headliner), the extras are so bored they fear they may be stuck celebrating New Years forever, a riot is happening outside, and a crane accident means they need to bring in a new extra fast.

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And that’s just to get things started – there is also a semen heist, a murder plot, and possibly a curse. Mi Gran Noche felt like what would happen if you had 10 Seinfeld plotlines all happening simultaneously, but managed to ride it out without becoming overly bogged down.

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The Q&A for this production was fascinating – with so many stories and characters you might assume that they worked on it for many months.  Director Álex de la Iglesia had expected (and planned for) 15 weeks of shooting time – but was told he was capped at 7. That sparked a downward spiral into chaos that closely resembled the film’s own – extras drinking or having sex on set, production members (including de la Iglesia) getting fired and re-hired constantly, and even a race to get the rights to the music numbers being performed. By the end of the shoot everyone was so exhausted and crabby that de la Iglesia felt it was rude to actually direct people anymore, and let the background characters do pretty much whatever they wanted. Knowing that means I will definitely have to give this a re-watch.

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I have to give special mention to Raphael for his part in the film. I admit to ignorance regarding this world-class performer, but he was described as being Spain’s Tom Jones. Raphael clearly has a huge following and a delightfully big personality after decades of being a star. In Mi Gran Noche he plays a caricature of himself, Alphonso. Alphonso is crazed, violent, and vain – he reminds me of the witch from Snow White. de la Iglesia had written the part specifically with Raphael in mind, but was terrified to approach him with the script as it is basically a roast.But Raphael loved it, and to our benefit agreed immediately. He took on his megalomaniac role with gusto and it was perfection all around.

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This was the first film I’ve seen from Álex de la Iglesia, and it definitely won’t be my last. I was drawn in my the goofy premise and captivated by the sheer madness of the story’s goings on. The characters were all superficial (they are TV personalities after all), but each got enough depth added through snippets of backstory to pull you into their drama. Each story would twist and weave, touch on or intersect with another, creating a giant snarled mess of catastrophe that eventually unravels to great effect. It even came with a lovely take-home message: “It’s better to be a little crazy than to be an extra in your own life”.

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