«Granada, I’m falling under your spell / And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell». Thus goes the song ‘Granada’ as sung by Frank Sinatra and a raft of other stars over the decades. British director Abid Khan has certainly fallen under Granada’s spell – it would be hard not to – but is the tale he tells in Granada Nights fascinating? Well, the story is as old as the Sierra Nevada hills but it is a perfectly watchable one, nonetheless. Khan’s story revolves around Ben (Antonio Aakeel), on his way to Granada to surprise his girlfriend, Helen, who is studying there on an Erasmus programme. On the bus, the curmudgeonly Ben meets beautiful American globetrotter Amelia (Quintessa Swindell), who schools the narrow-minded Brit in the wonders of travel.
Alas for poor Ben, when he arrives in town Helen has ditched her flat and him, leaving him stranded and broken hearted. He finds Amelia and she takes him under her wing. Before long, he becomes part of the large student community in the city. To be honest, at this point of proceedings, I was firmly on Team Helen for Ben is a bit like an old Brexit voter trapped in a teen’s body. This film could even be viewed as an analogy of Britain’s often uncomfortable relationship with Europe. Ben is often whining and feels like a fish out of water while all the Erasmus students he meets from various EU countries are charming, take pains to speak his language and generously embrace him literally and figuratively.
Unlike the UK, Ben sees the errors of his blinkered ways as he finally succumbs to the myriad charms of his new Spanish home and European friends, leaving his insular past behind him. As Ben’s world view gradually becomes more expansive, so does the film. The film’s director of photography Ossi Jalkanen starts proceedings with a square frame, the film gradually expanding to a classic 16:9 format. And as Ben starts to really see and appreciate his home and friendships, he also becomes more likable as a character, so by the time Helen (Alice Sanders) comes back on the scene, we are firmly on Team Ben.
Khan has spoken of this film being a labour of love, and it was a long, long labour. He’s finally managed to deliver his first film despite the difficulties of budget and Covid. Filming was organised to take advantage of certain events in the city, such as the Easter religious processions through the town, while much of the equipment arrived courtesy of Khan chucking it all in the back of a car and driving it to Granada from the UK. The film suffers somewhat from those budget constraints and Aakeel perhaps lacks the charisma to carry the film on his young shoulders. However, the supporting cast is strong and Jalkanen has worked wonders to make the film look as good as it does. The director has spoken of his own experience as an Erasmus student and his time in the Andalusian city. His appreciation of both the Erasmus programme and the city shine through in this sweet tale that is a love song to Europe and to Granada.
- Granada Nights is available on demand from Monday 13 December
- VIDEO | Here’s the trailer of Granada Nights.