Thursday, 24 November 2011

Spain Made Flesh: Penélope Cruz and La niña de tus ojos (Fernando Trueba, 1998)

      The stardom of Penélope Cruz can be dated precisely as beginning in 1992 with the release of Jamón jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992) and Belle epoque (Fernando Trueba, 1992). The two films side by side encapsulate two facets of her star image; on the one hand, Cruz’s position as what Eugenia de la Torriente describes as the ‘mito erótico nacional’ [‘national erotic myth’] (2004: 38) as Silvia in Jamón jamón, and on the other, the virginal ideal in the character of Luz in Belle epoque. But they also caused her to debut on the national stage in two films that either consciously questioned and parodied Spanish identities or conflated contemporary Spain with Spain’s past; Cruz’s emergence at a time when Spanish identity was openly being discussed and Spain was actively (and publicly) trying to redefine itself has shaped the form and content of her stardom, the ways in which she interacts with the national, and the image of Spanishness that she represents as an end result. From the outset of her career, Penélope Cruz has also been constructed as a star who specifically ‘belongs’ to Spain: a number of Spanish female stars have emerged in the last twenty years but none are so possessively claimed as she. Cruz is commonly referred to in the Spanish press as ‘nuestra Penélope’ [‘our Penélope’] and her star image is presented as signifying innate aspects of Spanish womanhood, and she is seen as embodying Spain, or ‘España hecha carne’ [‘Spain made flesh’] in the words of director Bigas Luna (Trashorras 1999: 132).
      Peter Evans notes how many daughters she has played onscreen and describes her as ‘la “niña”, es decir, la de todos los espectadores, la de toda España, a la que se refieren a menudo como “nuestra Penélope”’ [‘the little girl, that is to say, that of all the spectators, that of all of Spain, she who they refer to at least as “our Penélope”’] (2004: 54-55). This is further emphasised by the roles that are located within a specifically Spanish context: the arrival of the Second Republic in Belle epoque; incarcerated as a ‘political subversive’ during the last years of the dictatorship in Entre rojas (Azucena Rodríguez, 1995); a ‘gran estrella’ recalling Imperio Argentina in La niña de tus ojos / The Girl of Your Dreams (Fernando Trueba, 1998); Goya’s model for ‘La maja vestida’ and ‘La maja desnuda’ in Volavérunt (Bigas Luna, 1999); as well as her short role in the prologue (set during the ‘state of exception’ in 1970) of Carne trémula / Live Flesh (Pedro Almodóvar, 1997). These films position Cruz and her star image within narratives that have cultural and historical significance to Spain and therefore embed her within the cultural imaginary: ‘a nation is nothing without the stories it tells itself about itself’ (Triana-Toribio 2003: 6). This post examines the representation of Penélope Cruz as embodying Spain, specifically in the film La niña de tus ojos, the film for which she won her first Goya for Best Actress in 1999.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

More Random Viewing

Left to right: Spanish Movie (Javier Ruiz Caldera, 2009), 18 comidas / 18 Meals (Jorge Coira, 2010).

Spanish Movie is in the same vein as the likes of Scary Movie (complete with Leslie Nielsen cameo), but with Spanish cinema as the focus of its parodies and in-jokes. Among the films parodied are: The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001), Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, 2006), Mar adentro / The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amenábar, 2004), El Orfanato / The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007), Alatriste (Agustín Díaz Yanes, 2006), El laberinto del fauno / Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006), Abre los ojos / Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997), Los lunes al sol / Mondays in the Sun (Fernando León de Aranoa, 2002), *[Rec] (Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plazas, 2007), and I'm sure I spotted a nod to Los cronocrímenes / Timecrimes (Nacho Vigalondo, 2007) as well. The humour is a bit hit and miss (it has a certificate of age 7 and over) but some of the film parodies have a real attention to detail -from set decoration and costume to actual shooting style. The three central actors -Alexandra Jiménez (playing a version of Penélope Cruz's Raimunda from Volver), Silvia Abril (playing a cross between Nicole Kidman in The Others and Belén Rueda in The Orphanage), and Carlos Areces (seemingly playing every Javier Bardem role from the last decade)- are all very good and throw themselves into the endeavour with gusto. You can also have fun playing 'spot the Spanish director', as a host of them turn up in cameos.
18 comidas, although comedic in parts, is a rather different proposition. It essentially divides one day into three meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), jumping between different vignettes around the city of Santiago de Compostela, as different sets of people (friends, couples, families) sit down to eat (we see each of the sets of people at each of the mealtimes). Some of the characters cross between different stories, others are self-enclosed. Some of the stories are slight, although I would say that they are intended more as glimpses into other people's lives than actual narratives; even some of the strands that have more of a 'plot' are not actually 'resolved' by the end of the film. There are some excellent performances (it is a large cast: Luis Tosar, Esperanza Pedreño, Pedro Alonso, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, and many more) and many moving moments as people try to connect (sometimes succeeding, sometimes not). It will also make you hungry. 

I watched Spanish Movie on DVD (it was part of my test) and 18 comidas is now available to watch at Filmin (they have the trailer as well). 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Another Book Added to List

Resina, J.R. (ed) (2008) -Burning Darkness: A Half Century of Spanish Cinema, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN: 978-0791475041

A collection that covers an interesting range of films with the aim of contributing to the as-yet still scarce range of English-language analytical resources that address Spanish cinema. The selection of films and directors has been done so as to span 'the period from the origins of the New Spanish Cinema in the 1950s to the end of the twentieth century' (p.1).

  • Introduction -Joan Ramon Resina
  • 1. Rehearsing for Modernity in ¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Luis García Berlanga, 1952) -Eva Woods Peiró
  • 2. Existential Crossroads in Muerte de un ciclista (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955) -Andrés Lima-Hincapié
  • 3. Viridiana Coca-Cola (Luis Buñuel, 1961) -Tom Conley
  • 4. El espíritu de la colmena: Memory, Nostalgia, Trauma (Víctor Erice, 1973) -Chris Perriam
  • 5. A Poetics of Splitting: Memory and Identity in La prima Angélica (Carlos Saura, 1974) -Ángel Quintana
  • 6. Ambiguous Disenchantment in El corazón del bosque (Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, 1979)  -Irení Depetris-Chauvin
  • 7. Los paraísos perdidos: Cinema of Return and Repetition (Basilio Martín Patino, 1985) -Tatjana Pavlović
  • 8. (M)Othering Strategies in El pájaro de la felicidad (Pilar Miró, 1993) -Jaume Martí-Olivella
  • 9. Abjection, Trauma, and the Material Image: La madre muerta (Juanma Bajo Ulloa, 1993) -Jo Labanyi
  • 10. The Catalan Body Politic as Aired in La teta i la lluna (Bigas Luna, 1994) -Dominic Keown
  • 11. Genre and Screen Violence: Revisiting Tesis (Alejandro Amenábar, 1995) -Barry Jordan
  • 12. Conceptualizing "the Impact" in Los amantes del Círculo Polar (Julio Medem, 1998) -Robert A. Davidson
  • 13. Immortal/Undead: The Body and the Transmission of Tradition in Amic/Amat (Ventura Pons, 1998) -Josep-Anton Fernández
  • 14. Imitation of Life: Transsexuality and Transtextuality in Todo sobre mi madre (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999) -Esteve Riambau
  • 15. The Construction of the Cinematic Image: En construcción (José Luis Guerín, 2000) -Joan Ramon Resina

The book has been added to the Books on Spanish Cinema, Part Two post.

Sunday, 6 November 2011 update

I finally ordered something from
I would say that their problem at the moment is stock levels -the two films that I was intending to buy were out of stock with an estimated re-stock date of 1-3 weeks. They only seem to have a few copies of most titles in stock (and that seems to be true of a lot of books as well as DVDs).
In the end I ordered two films that were in stock (I wanted to know what normal delivery times would be) and they were delivered three days later. Postage came to 7 euros (including tax), which is considerably cheaper than anywhere else I've used to import Spanish DVDs.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Random Viewing

Left to right: Salto al vacio / Jump into the Void (Daniel Calparsoro, 1995), Flores del otro mundo / Flowers From Another World (Icíar Bollaín, 1999).

    So: to the films. Salto al vacio was Daniel Calparosoro's directorial debut and a distinctive calling card -the camerawork is bristling with energy while also managing to convey how stifling Alex (Najwa Nimri -probably best known to UK audiences for Abre los ojos / Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997), Los amantes del círculo polar / Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem, 1998) and Lucía y el sexo / Sex and Lucía (Julio Medem, 2001)- but here making her cinematic debut and the first of a series of films with Calparsoro) finds her current (violent) life by framing her within cramped spaces and utilising claustrophobia-inducing close-ups (particularly within domestic spaces / scenes with her family). The last sequence of the film initially seems to suggest that her horizons are opening up (she is outside of the city and in an open space) but instead of taking the opportunity offered to her, she instead takes a step back towards the violence that has been following her throughout the film, and we leave her in a determined state of mind (she has finally made her mind up about what she is going to do) but surrounded by fog. It's relatively unusual for a film about disaffected youth / urban alienation to centre on a female protagonist -the film is very much from her perspective and not only does Calparsoro emphasise Nimri's striking 'look' via the close-ups of her face, but we also see several sequences over her shoulder (effectively her POV). I'm going to track down the other films they made together because although I've seen a couple of his later films, and quite a lot of Nimri's, this was the first of the films that they made together that I've seen. It is very different to anything else made in Spain in that era (at least, from what I've seen).
    Icíar Bollaín also made her directorial debut in 1995 (Hola, ¿estás sola?), but it was her second film that I recently caught up with. Flores del otro mundo looks at one of the problems of rural life (and the 'ghost villages' left empty after the exodus to the cities) -the shortage of women in the countryside- through the stories of three different women who join the village / start relationships with men who live there (two of them attend a 'dating party' organised by the village each year where groups of Spanish and South American women visit en masse to meet the local single men (an idea based on real events), and the third is 'acquired' (and she is viewed as his property) via sex tourism). This isn't a romantic drama, as Bollaín looks at the issues of immigration, race, gender, and rural life through an unfiltered lens, showing the rough (domestic violence, racism, sexism, and simply the differing expectations that couples have for their relationships) and the smooth (one couple seems to find genuine happiness). For me, the stand-out story strand was the relationship between Damián (Luis Tosar) and Patricia (Lissette Mejía) -there are two scenes where Damián does the 'right thing' where you feel like actually cheering (well, I did, anyway).

Further reading:
Davies, A. (2009) -Daniel Calparsoro, Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.
Santaolalla, I. (2005) -Los "Otros": Etnicidad y "raza" en el cine español contemporáneo, Zaragoza & Madrid: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza & Ocho y Medio, Libros de Cine.