Spending a week at a film festival doesn’t have to be a week spent soaking up heady, serious, dramatic offerings. It can also be a time to be amused and entertained – and actually, sometimes those are the very best films to go for as they leave you feeling full of life as you run from place to place all week. That was certainly the feeling I was left with after laughing my way through GHOST GRADUATION (PROMOCIÓN FANTASMA), the new comedic offering from Spanish director Javier Ruiz Caldrea.
The story begins with Modesto (Raúl Arévalo). He struggles to hold on to his job as a teacher (he’s been fired from seven schools), primarily because he always seems to be acting so strangely. It’s not hard to figure out why he acts so odd: Modesto can see dead people. As he arrives at yet another new job, he is in for his toughest task yet – this particular high school is haunted by the ghosts of five students who died there from a fire in the library. These five students – deliberately evocative of The Breakfast Club – first try to scare Modesto off. However, when he realizes that the spirits trapped here on earth are trapped because they have unfinished business, he offers to help them finish high school once and for all.
There is a massive difference between homage and spoof, and it’s a difference that GHOST GRADUATION understands well. While there are a good handful of references to many 80′s movie moments, the film stands on its own two feet as a tale of personal redemption. It does great things to mix the wicked humour of the situation, with the sadness of five lives cut short. As they talk to Modesto, they start to understand the fruitlessness of staying on earth. The film never stays maudlin though, it keeps things pretty darned delightful both through clever writing and nifty sight-gags.
One interesting detail about director Juan Ruiz Caledra is his resume. GHOST GRADUATION is his second feature film – and his first feature film was SPANISH MOVIE (as in SCARY MOVIE, DATE MOVIE, NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE). To go from that sort of silliness to this sort of cleverness makes me genuinely wonder about the talent that is being wasted in all of those spoofs. As much as many of us like to point to those films as a sign of “what’s wrong with cinema”, maybe we’re discounting an entire crop of writers and directors who are capable of such great things…if only thy were given the opportunity.
But, for every sign of hope, there’s a harbinger of doom. Before the lights even went down on GHOST GRADUATION, the programmer who was introducing the film proudly(?) declared that the rights to the film had been bought by Fox and it was slated to be remade for American audiences. I have no idea what to expect from a remake of this film, but I could hazard a guess. Before its good work is sullied, keep your eyes out for this film on dvd and watch it if you can.