Left to right: El mal ajeno / For the Good of Others (Oskar Santos, 2009), Lope / The Outlaw (Andrucha Waddington, 2010).
El mal ajeno is a directorial debut with pedigree -produced by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo (both of whom are writer-directors who have consistently made interesting films), and starring a top-tier cast in the form of Eduardo Noriega, Belén Rueda, Angie Cepeda, and Clara Lago. It's a thriller of sorts, with elements of the fantastic (a combination that could be considered very Amenábarian, and certainly the central premise feels like something he could have made around the time of Abre los ojos). A doctor (Noriega -here playing older than he is in reality) who specialises in pain control in terminal cases has numbed himself to everything around him (he comments that in blocking out the bad / suffering that surrounds his job, he has also ended up blocking the good as well). However after a traumatic event connected to one of his patients, a pregnant young woman in a coma (Cepeda), he comes to realise that he is not as unscathed as he first appears, and that every good deed has its price. I'm not going to give any more of the plot away because it will be more enjoyable to watch without prior knowledge. Although I felt it petered out a bit towards the end, the film starts really strongly and the central premise is an intriguing one -the film marks Oskar Santos out as someone to keep an eye on.
Lope was released on DVD in the UK back in October, although for some reason it has been retitled as The Outlaw, which isn't just a nondescript title but also somewhat misleading as to the content. The film is actually a drama based around the early career of Lope de Vega (Alberto Ammann -seen recently by UK audiences in Celda 211), a Spanish playwright who dominated Spain's early Golden Age and revolutionised the theatre. They have condensed around eight years of his life into the space of several months and played up a love triangle angle, as he finds himself caught between his theatre-owning benefactor's daughter (Pilar López de Ayala) and a childhood friend (Leonor Watling). As he starts to push the boundaries of what was expected (and accepted) on stage, he becomes increasingly frustrated by the conditions set on his work by his benefactor (Juan Diego) and begins to push social boundaries as well, which will have far-reaching repercussions for himself and those around him... Saying that it's a bit like a Spanish Shakespeare in Love isn't entirely accurate because it doesn't have the humorous tone that parts of that film has (and there's no 'bit with a dog'), but it's not entirely dissimilar either given the subject matter (theatre, love, and the making of a literary 'name').