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Mapping the acting tree: Vicky Luengo

Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s recent output – namely feature film Madre and television show Antidisturbios left a strong mark with two amazing female leads and two mesmerizing performances. Marta Nieto and Vicky Luengo respectively led those casts with roles that held on their own so well that at certain points they felt as if the acting can topple the film.

In Antidisturbios, Vicky Luengo felt so real at times that it almost spoiled the diegesis of the show. I’ve rarely witnessed such displays of acting power – Angela Winkler in Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum by Volker Schloendorff comes to mind with the role which basically overpowered the strength of an otherwise masterful film. Some actors in some roles tend to outgrow the material that surrounds them and give us something unique and authentic and this kind of magic happened in Antidisturbios. After seeing the show, I was curious to get introduced to Vicky Luengo’s work and after checking her IMDB page it felt almost perverse that such a potent actress actually took part in many projects that we can consider to be lightweight, even trivial in comparison to her talent.

Obviously very rare actors are born into high profile projects and yet I was curious to see how different genres, different media and obviously different directors harnessed her outstanding energy.

This is my journey into Vicky Luengo’s body of work.

My method consisted of finding literally every piece of work she ever did. At the time when I wrote this piece two feature films she starred in – Chavalas and El Sustituto were opening at Malaga Film Festival and thus former was unavailable to me. Other films were obtained by all kinds of channels including the politeness of their respective directors whom I would like to thank.

For an accomplished filmmaker like me this was really a beautiful throwback to passionate days of film criticism that used to be my previous occupation but also a chance to be introduced to different strata of Spanish cinema all over again.


Rumores by Oscar Aibar is Vicky Luengo’s first telefilm and her part in it is significant as her first collaboration with this director with whom she will later have a much substantial work in El sustituto, a theatrical thriller he made fourteen years later.

La Trinca: La biografia no autorizada by Joaquim Oristrell is a unique jukebox musical focused on the pop cultural phenomenon – the show band La Trinca who began their career in 1969 during the late Francoism and struggled with authorities because of their quite anarchic and flamboyant performances that included skimpily clad dancers, occasional Catalan political manifestos and all kinds of pop music.

In recent years a major musical Explota Explota, inspired by the work of Rafaella Carra and her groundbreaking television shows revived the nostalgic view of popular music in Franco’s twilight years. Unlike Explota Explota, La Trinca doesn’t avoid Francoism as a subject.

To the contrary, both films depict Franco’s family as a very potent agent when it comes to influence on popular culture. Unlike Explota Explota where Franco’s wife is just mentioned as a threat to the board of Spanish national broadcasting company RTE, and later shown in a short insert as a shocked viewer of the New Year Special, in La Trinca, Franco’s family has more protagonism. His daughter and niece appear.

La Trinca is fashioned after Richard Lester’s anarchic 1960s films that starred The Beatles where the band played the fictionalized versions of themselves. Also, there is an influence of the Lifetime channel Unauthorized series of telefilms that dealt with seminal TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Full House and Saved by the Bell hence the no autorizada in the title. Here we have a stylized and heavily fictionalized story of the band with the fourth wall being broken a few times, very self-conscious dialogue and a very meta-approach.

Vicky Luengo stars as Carmen Martinez Bordiu, actual aristocrat and Franco’s favorite who decides to run away from home, hang out with La Trinca and participate in some of their most outrageous stunts. Her protagonism is related to one stretch of the telefilm but she easily steals the show in this early part.

Un, dos, tres,… el escondite ingles is an early Spanish Richard Lester knock-off made in 1970 and truth be told it was a decent one. La Trinca: La biografia no autoritzada is a worthy successor.

That same year Vicky Luengo starred in the main role as Carmen in Jacques Malaterre’s adaptation of Prosper Merimee’s novella, mostly known as inspiration for George Bizet’s opera. In this television film Vicky Luengo does a dramatical rendering of this seminal character and captivates as Carmen. Malaterre’s adaptation like most of the other ones focuses just on the certain parts of Merimee’s novella and focuses on the romantic whirlwinds that surround Carmen. The whole production is handsomely mounted and done in French despite the Spanish setting. Malaterre is known for his documentaries with an anthropological element and his Carmen is a lot more romanticized and a lot less ethnological then one would expect.

Els fills del sol is a television biopic about a famous Catalan biochemist . Set in the thirties and the forties, this film depicts his struggle to remain a scientist while facing the Fascist regime head on as a Communist, Catalan nationalist and a Republican. After Franco’s victory that finds him studying abroad, he decides to return with his family to Spain and continue with his work. However, the pressure of Francoists is overwhelming and even though his scientific breakthroughs are significant the danger of imprisonment and political persecution is always looming. Vicky Luengo stars as Elena his loving wife and a devoted partner who supported him throughout these troubled times. Elena is a rather cliched character as written but Luengo breathes life and a sense of personality and independence into her this turning this one-dimensional character on page into a breathing person on the screen. Overall, except for Luengo’s role that is emotionally very dynamic, this telepic is rather one-note and delivers only one truly exhilarating situation – the exchange between Calvet and Franco himself when they discuss Snow White’s poisoning in letters. However, the importance of the subject turned it into an export and it managed to travel outside of Spain.

Television shows

Vicky Luengo’s first guest appearance in a TV show was a tropey role of a concerned granddaughter in the seventeenth episode of the sixteenth season of Hospital Central a long-running Spanish television show about the lives and work of doctors and nurses. Later on, she will have a stronger character arc as one of the principal patients in Madres. Amor y vida as Natalia.

Among Vicky Luengo’s most significant guest appearances is the guest starring role in the first episode of El Don de Alba, the Spanish remake of long-running American TV show Ghost Whisperer created by John Gray. Luengo appears in the opening episode as the girl haunted by the initially malevolent but then eventually concerned ghost and she appears in dual roles. She will have a similar role in the short film Tobar-te a few years later albeit with a different general approach since this show is more in the realm of light fantasy.

In mini-series Salao, Vicky Luengo brings a subtle performance that fits the period piece about a Catalan settler in Galicia who initiates an anchovies business. This type of roles will reappear later on in Luengo’s career albeit in different forms.

A 36-episode run in La pecera de Eva, a Spanish dramedy about a school psychologist dealing with different schoolkid issued marked Vicky Luengo’s first collaboration with Rodrigo Sorogoyen who had a prolific career in less-appreciated and mass produced TV shows before his powerful Peak TV entry Antidisturbios. In La pecera de Eva she played troubled student Ari who seeks support from the leading character and brings a vibrant and strong emotional performance. She brought the same kind of intensity to her run in La Riera a long-lasting Spanish soap in which she acted for 43 episodes.

Vicky Luengo played a rebellious teenager when she was 20 years old in El Pacto – a mini-series by Santos Mercero. This two-parter is based on a true story when a group of high school girls decided to get pregnant at the same time in order to protest the expulsion of their friend who was punished by school for the same reason. Luengo’s character is Merche and she mostly appears in ensemble scenes with other girls but otherwise doesn’t get her own backstory and family scenes like other more protagonistic characters. However, in ensemble scenes Luengo is radiant is stands apart as a memorable character. Years later, Spanish television produced a much more potent high school-set potboiler Elite that spawned several seasons and Netflix worldwide distribution.

One of the interesting guest spots was also in Camping paradis a long-running French television show that runs on TF1 since 2006. As created by Michel Alexandre it is a light-hearted show about the employees of the summer resort tailored after the seminal American television classic The Love Boat. Vicky Luengo guest starred in 2013 Dancing Camping episode. This is a French TV show and two years prior Vicky appeared in the French television adaptation of Carmen so she already branched out to their industry as well.

Antidisturbios however is the pinnacle of Luengo’s police inspector triptych and her most mature television role to date. Actually her role of Internal Affairs detective Laia in Antidisturbios stems from two other similar roles – Maria Losada in Homicidios and Raquel Ramirez in Secretos de estado.

Homicidios was largely based around the star-persona of Eduardo Noriega and Vicky Luengo’s Maria Losada was basically a secondary support detective in the police unit helped by Noriega’s forensic psychologist. However, Vicky Luengo’s charisma is evident from the first episode on, and even though her activities were mostly relegated to secondary police work, her presence was felt. She gave a lot of very unique charisma to an otherwise nondescript and generic character, and a lot of it was garnered through educated response related to protagonism of two main stars.

In Secretos de estado Vicky Luengo appears as the Secret Service agent but her task is procedurally speaking a lot like regular police work. With a lot of the cast shared with shows like Desaparecido, it’s one of those Spanish shows made both for local and for international market. And like those exports it has a cast-full of seasoned television pros and beautiful stars, namely Michelle Calvo who gets severely objectified and in this context Luengo holds her own as well. Mostly clad in tight jeans she is a hot and dynamic Secret Service agent oozing mood and attitude.

However, Antidisturbios is a whole new beast. It is a complex show about a lot of things. Vicky Luengo stars as Laia – a young Internal Affairs inspector who will stop at nothing to break the case of the Riot Police unit making a fatal mistake at a routine eviction deployment. Slowly, she realizes that there are layers of that case that seem hidden and she gets hooked on the investigation and people she is looking into.

Isabel Pena and Rodrigo Sorogoyen deserve kudos for fleshing Laia as a genuine woman who is not just a cop in a female body. She is a policewoman in the truest sense with authentic traits, strengths and weaknesses and Vicky Luengo channels all those layer brilliantly whether it is her blunt enthusiasm, her never-say-die attitude during a family table game, interrogation room smarts or a gut-wrenching suspense set piece where bravura filmmaking is all about capturing her emotion.

Laia’s character has a rich and layered arc and Luengo delivers it most gracefully and makes us feel as if we spent some time with an actual person and not a character. Making such a strong character is a high-wire act for any performer but Luengo reaches for greatness.

When it comes to her previous detective roles, there are some things she explored in Secretos de estado that come to fruition here. In that TV show she uses her body to write down leads on her skin and she physically shows restlessness in office scenes by taking unconventional sitting positions. Laia does bring some of that Raquel Ramirez mannerism but goes much deeper and works as a far substantial character.

Her television work with Sorogoyen will continue in the new iteration of Historias para no dormir.

Short films

Vicky Luengo’s first short film was Recuerda by Carlos de Cozar who will eventually direct her in three shorts. Luengo is the focus point of this film and for the most of its runtime she is the only actor in frame. She stars as a girl going through and existential crisis. Somewhat infantile screenplay and shabby execution fail her committed performance. After this film made in 2008, she worked with de Cozar again in 2010 in Punto de no retorno and two years later in Lagrimas azules. Thus we can say that their three shorts were made with two year breaks between each.

Punto de no retorno feels like a PSA ad on bullying. This fiction short tries to emulate a documentary with staged reconstructions of events in the opening part and then turns into a full fiction form. Vicky Luengo appears as a sympathetic Librarian who supports the main characters craving for knowledge. This role lacks nuance and it’s hard to tell whether de Cozar intentionally aped the look of school-set TV shows or not but both the execution and acting look like a PSA ad which is really a shame.

Lagrimas azules is set in 2020 and made in 2012. It’s a story of a captured reporter who was about to uncover a large cover up in near future. That future also happened to be just last year as I write this article but anyhow this is a step forward for de Cozar as a director even though his style is still way below Luengo’s level of talent and commitment. In this film she has a supporting role of reporter’s wife who reports him missing with very limited screen-time and very little acting demands.

Vladimir Vera’s Cancion de Cuna is Luengo’s second outing in the short film and it mostly showcases her ability to believably convey extreme emotions. It a simply assembled and planned film based on dialogue and torture heavy interrogation scene with Luengo being the interrogate.

Tu cubata detonante by Almudena Munzo is a retro-styled Fassbinderian tale of seedy Madrid nightlife. Vicky Luengo brings a lot of heart to a role of a young girl who fell for a bad boy and almost pays the ultimate price for her love. In Tu cubata detonante style easily overcomes the substance and yet this film has a strange sense of integrity to it.

Waste by Duocabezas is a compelling short that is reminiscent of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s work, especially Innocence, but more energetic. In this film Vicky Luengo stars as one of the girls who live in an apartment and dominate each other by a pencil that is used as a bizarre conductor stick or a wand. She is great in this film which is mostly without dialogue and her mesmerizing qualities add another layer to her character.

Su by Laia Foguet is a beautiful two-hander about two young women who used to be in a relationship but now one of them is getting married to a man. Vicky Luengo stars as the prodigal lover who returns and wants to break up that marriage and revive the relationship two of them had. This film is brimming with energy underneath a rather calm and melancholic surface thanks to Luengo’s outstanding and lived-in performance.

Vacio by Sergio Martinez Alberto stars Susana Abaitua as Luna, the main and mostly silent character who goes out to party with a group of friends. Susana Abaitua is a famous and renown actress in her own right with quite a few internationally screen TV shows and films. Vicky Luengo appears as a pivotal background character. She is rarely on-screen but her presence is felt through off-screen dialogue and some very atmospheric protagonistic shots. If Susana Abaitua is the lead in this composition then Vicky Luengo is the key backer that gives this picture depth.

Tobar-te is a lovely tale of a man who decides to remove uncertainty from his love life and hires an agency that matches people based on their DNA. Vicky Luengo stars in this film as his greatest love whose loss he never really overcame. She keeps haunting him and literally appears in his life as he is starting a new romance with his genetical match. In this film Vicky Luengo has a very special task because she appears both as his idealized but also a bit spiteful ex that haunts him like a ghost but also there is a realistic scene of their encounter where she fleshes out her character in a more nuanced manner.

In El pais extrano Vicky Luengo stars as a young actress who is intrigued by an old lady that she meets on the shooting range as she is preparing for her part. The young woman wants to get close to the old lady and create a sense of surrogate family with her but as their relationship grows closer it triggers the endgame the lonely old woman plotted all along. Luengo works nicely with Rosa Maria Mateo the famous television personality and Laura Pousa craftily holds her cards close to the chest so the final reveal has a strong impact.

Feature films

Luengo’s first big screen credit comes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss appearance as Minstrel at a Spanish carnival in Victor Matellano’s Wax. This film made by a local genre enthusiast and aimed at an international audience has just a few genre details working for it – namely the use of Paul Naschy’s voice which attracts the Naschy completists. However, in due time, maybe it will be a staple for Luengo completists as well as her career advances further.

However, Luengo’s second feature Born by Claudio Zulian brought her a major starring role. It’s a period piece based on authentic historical records about life in Barcelona during the XVIII century. Zulian’s approach is very unique. His lighting of scenes and some of the framing is inspired by classic painters and yet the general mood and attitude of the story are naturalistic. Naturalist approach to period pieces is not very common so the film is very interesting because of that. Evident influence of the classic painters does not contradict the naturalist approach thanks to actors and Vicky Luengo among them. In this film she stars as the widow who realizes that eventually she has to monetize her beauty by becoming acquainted to rich lovers. The role is demanding both emotionally and physically with a lot of raw sexuality in play. Vicky Luengo seems very confident in every layer of this role and brings intensity and immersion to every task she is given. This role turned out to be a powerful showcase for Luengo since she won the award at the New York City International Film Festival.

Third big screen outing was an ensemble romantic comedy Barcelona, nit d’ hivern directed by Dani de la Orden. Just last year, Dani de la Orden fully graduated as an auteur of romantic comedies with a brilliant Netflix outing Loco por ella. Barcelona, nit d’hivern is derived from the post-Love Actually wave of romcoms, namely American productions made by New Line and Warner Brothers that creatively peaked with Ken Kwapis’ He’s Just Not That into You. Spanish cinema had a couple of their own very successful ensemble romantic comedies like 8 citas by Peris Roman and Rodrigo Sorogoyen (of all people) or Paco Leon’s Kiki el amor se hace that in itself was a remake of Australian film The Little Death. Dani de la Orden however exclusively leans on he Hollywood precursors with strong Yuletide atmosphere. Vicky Luengo stars as an adventurous girl who meets one of the young protagonists in the bar and takes him for an unforgettable tour around Barcelona which climaxes with a lovemaking session at her place. Her character turns out to be the raunchiest of the girl characters and Luengo adds a dose of insecurity to the character very much reminiscent of Isla Fisher’s seminal turn in Wedding Crashers.

Luengo’s fourth feature film is a thesis film Blue Rai by Pedro B Abreu. It was produced in the Opera Prima program by ESCAC film school and feels like a directorial showcase based around such staples of indie cinema like Kevin Smith’s Clerks. Vicky Luengo stars as the girl of main character’s dreams. He is the video store owner who is deeply in love with a radio host Lola. When she dumps him, he loses his temper and enters a series of unfortunate events that include a hostage situation, newlyweds who missed the exact date of their ceremony, the visit of Holy Father and loads of send-ups to popular films. Luengo is up to the task as the girl who motivates the main character to transform and grow up and even though her screen time is quite limited her magnetism is sufficient to make her presence felt in the ways director intended. This 67-minute long debut never actually overcomes the limitations of it’s derivative concept and low budget roots but Luengo is one of the key players who help the director put his message across.

Las leyas de la termodinamica by Mateo Gil is an excellent romantic comedy that puts Vicky Luengo to use as a part of the cast that supports Vito Sanz in the leading role further enveloped by the film’s high concept. In Hogar by Pastor Brothers, Luengo brings sweetness to a rather one-dimensional supporting character. These widely seen Netflix-released films mostly used Luengo as overqualified supporting cast but worked in their own right nevertheless.

El Sustituto is Luengo’s collaboration with Oscar Aibar, a thriller set in the early days of post-Francoist transition, a story of a cop moving to a calm seaside town where a mysterious crime leads him to uncover a colony of Nazis living quite openly in exile. Vicky Luengo brings the freshness and gentleness of Ali MacGraw which is period-appropriate in the role of local doctor who befriends the idealistic cop and even falls in love with him eventually failing to keep him from getting swallowed by the case. Luengo’s character is energetic and enigmatic and her performance adds a welcome layer of mystery that the screenplay otherwise didn’t include.

Even though Chavalas remained unavailable for me, Luengo is front and center in trailers and advertising campaigns. Thus I can safely assume that film includes her significant contributions.

The end is the beginning

The end of my journey through the first decade of Vicky Luengo’s work actually just brought me to the point when her actual stardom begins. So this article will remain as a useful reminder of the early days that are certainly about to be overshadowed by upcoming creative challenges.

Dimitrije Vojnov

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