Ava Gardner, The Spanish Years – A Review Of ‘Arde Madrid’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Arde Madrid: Burn Madrid Burn isn’t The Americans, but it does involve Ana Mari (Inma Cuesta) going undercover to spy on American actress Ava Gardner (Younger’s Debi Mazar). The concern was that Gardner, who spent time in Spain after divorcing Frank Sinatra, was associating with Communists and other radicals. As Gardner’s maid, Ana Mari is in the perfect position to report on her activities to the Spanish government. She even has a fake husband, Manolo (Paco León), who works as Gardner’s chauffeur.

Debi Mazar (Photos Courtesy of MHz Choice)

There’s just one problem: unless partying is a crime, Gardner doesn’t do much else and Ana Mari really has to work hard to think up accusations. Truthfully, Gardner’s guilt or innocence is inconsequential. Suspicion is what got Ana Mari hired, and that’s all she needs to stay employed, but what the show purports to be in the first episode is a lot different than what the show actually ends up being. Ana Mari’s efforts should’ve made her the star of Arde Madrid. Somehow, though, she ends up taking a back seat to Manolo, and his failed scheme to make money selling whiskey.
Eventually the whiskey scheme becomes a necklace problem, but it lasts the whole season, while Ana Mari’s spying becomes an afterthought. The plot makes Manolo important as a character, even as Ana Mari is much more interesting. Physically, she walks with a limp and is always being told she needs to limp less, as if it that’s something she can control. Her brother, Floren (Julián Villagrán), has schizophrenia, which means she often keeps an eye on him and in her very first scene she tells a group of female Francoists that they’re to blame if their husbands are abusive.
Inma Cuesta and Debi Mazar (Photos Courtesy of MHz Choice)

Working with Gardner has an effect on Ana Mari but, because the show is dealing with multiple characters, Arde Madrid really only gets to focus on her sexual awakening (and while the show doesn’t have HBO levels of nudity, it doesn’t shy away from sexuality). Pilar (Anna Castillo), Gardner’s other maid, offers a nice counterpoint to Ana Mari, as she faces an unplanned pregnancy with a frog test (which was a real way of testing for pregnancy).
Mazar is hypnotic as the brazen Gardner, though when it comes to dates, Arde Madrid might be too general for viewers primarily interested in learning about Gardner’s life. Ernest Hemingway’s death is one exception and her secretary, Bill (Ken Appledorn), keeps trying to get her to read the script for 55 Days At Peking, a film she would eventually get killed off of due to bad behavior (on the show, that’s thrown out as a possibility before she’s even accepted the part). Episode Five provides Mazar with the biggest chance to shine; including a rousing round of “Who Am I?” (that game where you have to guess the name that’s on your forehead). It’s also true that Gardner lived in the apartment above the former president of Argentina (Osmar Núñez) who, along with his wife (Fabiana García Lago), acts as the series’ agitated, sitcom neighbor.
Besides acting, León also co-created the series with Anna R. Costa and directed all eight episodes. Pau Esteve Birba‘s black-and-white cinematography is crisp and bright, and the subtitles are easy to read (the show is mostly in Spanish). Ideally more of the focus would have been on Ana Mari, and sometimes it feels like not much happens, due to the nature of the ongoing storyline, but there’s also something about the pacing that reflects the mundanity of real life. Even movie stars have routines sometimes.
The first four episodes of Arde Madrid are available to stream now on MHz Choice. New episodes (two per week) will be added on Tuesdays. I’ve seen all 8 episodes.

%d bloggers like this: