Saturday, 22 December 2012

My Top 5 Spanish Films Seen in 2012

   As I've said previously, because I don't live in Spain I usually see Spanish films a year or so after their original release -when they arrive on DVD, or increasingly when they appear on Filmin: my criteria for the top 5 of the year is that they have to have been released in Spain in either 2011 or 2012. I've watched fewer films this year, not because of lack of choice but rather a lack of time; I've had to be a bit pickier about what I've spent my time on and have probably not watched as wide a variety as last year. You will see that there are films included below that I have not yet written about on the blog (including three of my top five) -I haven't written any blog posts since the end of October, but I have been watching films. I'll probably write a Random Viewing round-up post in January to cover those additional films (although the ones that made the top 5 should have their own standalone posts).
   Of my top five I have got two films level in top position - they are completely different beasts but I couldn't choose between them

My Top Five:

=1. De tu ventana a la mía / Chrysalis (Paula Ortíz, 2012)
Trailer (subtitled)
This film wasn't really on my radar until Paula Ortíz was nominated for 'Best New Director' at the Goyas earlier this year. Having seen it, I'm now surprised that it didn't garner more attention because it is a stunning directorial debut - 'stunning' in both its ambition (it interweaves three stories from different eras) and its appearance (it is easily the most beautiful film I've seen this year). The film tells the story of three women in three different eras: in 1923, Violeta (Leticia Dolera) in the mountains; in 1941, Inés (Maribel Verdú) in the arid countryside; in 1975, Luisa (Luisa Gavasa) in the city. Each strand of the story has a distinct look: a burnished gold for Inés; blue for Luisa; and somehow Violeta appears almost to be viewed through glass. The review in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine observed that a different film would have focussed on the men in the stories - these women exist at the margins of history, they are those left behind, but Ortíz suggests that their bravery is no less remarkable. Essentially these are tales of love, loss, and surviving with dignity. I hope to write a longer post about it in the future.

=1. No habrá paz para los malvados / No Rest for the Wicked (Enrique Urbizu, 2011)
Trailer (not subtitled)
I watched this back in February, mentioned it in my post about the Goya winners (it won Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor) and fully intended to write a proper piece on it, perhaps in relation to Urbizu's other thrillers, but then work got in the way. I rewatched it last week and it still stands up as an expertly-made thriller without an ounce of fat on it: everything matters and everything has a pay off. Likewise Urbizu and co-writer Michel Gaztambide refuse to spoon-feed or talk down to the audience - they expect you to pay attention and read between the lines without obvious signposts or a character spouting exposition to keep you up to speed. This is all the more true because the central performance (Jose Coronado) is largely wordless; Santos Trinidad is somewhere between a lone wolf and a shark (he must keep moving) and is uncommunicative to the point of surliness. Are we meant to root for him? Sympathies are not straightforward because his motives are murky and tied to self-interest and he really has no idea about what he has stepped in to. Again, I hope to write a longer post (it is formally an interesting film with many layers and doubling) in the New Year.

3. Diamond Flash (Carlos Vermut, 2012)
Trailer (subtitled)
I put off watching this one right until the last minute because the amount of hype around it made me think that I could only find it disappointing. A cult/underground hit in Spain, positive word-of-mouth started spreading in the summer when it debuted on Filmin (part of a prize it had won on the festival circuit -it has recently had a DVD release) and whipped up almost to the point of hysteria (it has been talked about as one of the most dazzling debuts in the history of Spanish cinema -although I now can't find the reference for that specific comment). It is a difficult film to describe - and is probably best viewed with as little information as possible because its impact is in its otherworldly strangeness - but reduced to a basic outline, it starts with the disappearance of a child and then incorporates the stories of five women (Eva Llorach, Victoria Radonic, Ángela Villar, Rocío León, Ángela Boix) whose lives connect with Diamond Flash (Miquel Insua), a mysterious masked man. It is something of a cliché to describe a decidedly non-mainstream film as Lynchian, but Lynch's Lost Highway is the closest comparison I can make to the experience of watching the film; it is unsettling because you genuinely do not know where you are being taken. I watched it on Filmin but will buy the DVD in the New Year so that I can rewatch it and attempt to write something more detailed.

4. Blackthorn (Mateo Gil, 2011)
Trailer (in English)
This was the first film mentioned on this blog (which is named after Gil's directorial debut), so it seems fitting that it finds a place here. You can read the standalone post I wrote about it here - I don't think I've got anything more to add to that assessment, so I'll just say that I hope it doesn't take Gil another twelve years until his next film. Oh, and it's available on DVD in the UK (it had a cinema release here).

5. Carmina o revienta (Paco León, 2012)
Trailer (no subtitles)
The third directorial debut in my top 5, and along with Diamond Flash a sign of change in the landscape of Spanish cinema -certainly in distribution patterns at the very least. Making the film with his own money, actor Paco León circumvented the restrictive distribution rules that come with public funds (namely a three-month window between theatrical and DVD releases) and harnessing the power of twitter went for a simultaneous multi-platform release that has paid dividends...and led to his memorable comment that his mother (his lead actress) had done more to combat film piracy in Spain than the Ley Sinde. But none of that would matter if the film was not up to quality -but it is. With his mother (Carmina Barrios) centre-stage as a force of nature, and his sister (María León) in support, León created a warm paean to (his) family.

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Arrugas / Wrinkles (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011), Elefante blanco / White Elephant (Pablo Trapero, 2012), Extraterrestre / Extraterrestrials (Nacho Vigalondo, 2012), Grupo 7 / Unit 7 (Alberto Rodríguez, 2012), Lobos de Arga / Attack of the Werewolves (Juan Martínez Moreno, 2012), Promoción fantasma / Ghost Graduation (Javier Ruíz Caldera, 2012).

Films from 2011* that I still need to track down:
Mientras duermes / Sleep Tight (dir. Jaume Balagueró), La voz dormida / The Sleeping Voice (dir. Benito Zambrano), Eva (dir. Kike Maíllo), Blog (dir. Elena Trapé), No tengas miedo / Don't Be Afraid (dir. Montxo Armendáriz), Cinco metros cuadrados / Five Square Metres (dir. Max Lemcke). [I've got 5 of the 6 on DVD, so I should manage to see them soon]. * 2012 films will form the basis of a separate post.

Films that don't fit the 2011/2012 criteria but that you should definitely see:
También la lluvia / Even the Rain (Iciar Bollaín, 2010), El sur / The South (Víctor Erice, 1983), Muerte de un ciclista / Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955), La torre de los siete jorobados / The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville, 1944), Iberia (Carlos Saura, 2005), Pablo G. del Amo: un montador de ilusiones / Pablo G. del Amo: an editor of dreams (Diego Galán, 2006), El Productor / The Producer (Fernando Méndez-Leite, 2007).

Books of 2012:
The only book I wrote about this year was World Film Locations: Madrid, which gave bite-sized tasters of a wide range of films that utilise Madrid as a backdrop. In the second half of the year a few more Spanish cinema-related books have appeared: Manchester University Press released two more volumes in their Spanish and Latin American Filmmakers series with books on the work of Iciar Bollaín (by Isabel Santaolalla) and Alejandro Amenábar (by Barry Jordan); Wiley-Blackwell released A Companion to Spanish Cinema (edited by Jo Labanyi and Tatjana Pavlovic). At the more affordable end of the scale (that last book is an eye-watering £120), MUP released some of the earlier volumes in the series -including those on Álex de la Iglesia (by Peter Buse, Nuria Triana-Toribio and Andrew Willis) and Julio Medem (by Rob Stone)- in paperback for the reasonable price of £14.99. Hopefully the other volumes will receive the same treatment (the hardbacks are £65). I have managed to get the Bollaín book through the inter-library loan system and will attempt to do the same for the Amenábar and the Wiley-Blackwell volume in the New Year. There seem to be quite a lot of books on Spanish cinema due for release in 2013 and I'll take a look at them in a post in January.

The blog will be quiet now until January, when I will post my list of ‘Ten Spanish films from 2012 that I want to catch up with in 2013’, and ‘Ten Spanish films due to arrive in 2013’.

Feliz navidad!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


   I should probably never state how regularly I’m intending to post because I’m invariably proved wrong –‘life is what happens while you’re making plans’ and all that.
   I have watched a few films for the Random Viewing thread but have got ‘stuck’ on one in particular (I’m starting to think that I may just post an image from it and move on to the next one), which is why I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks, but I’ve also just generally been busier than I thought I would be this month.
   As I mentioned back in February, I finally had an ‘idea’ for a more academic piece of writing and was starting to research that. I then managed to get what ended up being an almost-six month secondment to a better job and had to put said idea to one side for the duration. In the past couple of weeks I’ve started to try and pick up the threads of where I was going with that idea, or at least trying to retrace my steps. I’ve also found a half-written piece (started around this time last year) on Javier Bardem which I’m currently trying to work out what to do with (and likewise trying to rediscover what my thoughts at the time were - the notes that I wrote as an aide-memoir at the end of where I’d got up to don’t make a great deal of sense to me now) –it might become one of my longer-style blog posts, or I might try to turn it into a conference paper. I think that these two things are probably going to be my focus for a while, so posting here will be a bit irregular for the rest of the year. I also need to get back into watching films for the sake of watching films –since September, when I said that my work commitments meant that my posting would increase again, I’ve felt a bit like I have to watch something in order to write about it here rather than just because I’d enjoy watching it. So I think that, rather contradictorily, I need to let my mind veg out a bit at the same time as focussing on a specific project and not darting from film to film so much.
So, in summary: I will be posting in the coming months but not in a regular pattern or great frequency. I’ll let you know when I start getting somewhere with my ‘project’ and I’ll still be checking in here and on twitter.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Random Viewing

Seis puntos sobre Emma / Five Points About Emma (Roberto Pérez Toledo, 2012), La chispa de la vida / As Luck Would Have It (Álex de la Iglesia, 2012)

   In Seis puntos sobre Emma, Verónica Echegui plays Emma, a blind twenty-something trying to get pregnant 'without complications' because she believes that a baby will allow her to experience real love for the first time; she's not interested in a relationship, only in having a child and being a mother. With this premise the film starts off quite breezily with Emma ending another relationship because the man in question is unable to impregnate her, but although it is described as a comedy, I found it quite sad and melancholy. Emma starts attending a therapy group for people who all have some sort of disability, and although she maintains her sunny disposition and encouraging conversational style when discussing the problems of others in the group (she also works at a Samaritans-style helpline), quite early on she admits that sometimes she also needs to be told that things will work out alright in the end. Her self-imposed emotional distance from men comes under strain when she becomes attracted to the therapist who leads the group sessions, Germán (Álex García), while at the same time a new neighbour, Diego (Fernando Tielve), starts to take an interest in Emma and her life. A kind of love triangle emerges but, without wishing to give too much away, it's a triangle that puts Emma in a vulnerable position because of the voyeuristic behaviour of the two men; Emma's blindness makes this voyeurism all the more acute.
   The character uses a combination of sunniness and an absence of self-pity to hide a deeper emotional seam that Echegui's performance nonetheless occasionally allows Emma to show, but without being cloying or 'quirky'. This seems all the more notable given that she can't use her eyes to direct a glance or signal a thought: a lot of the performance centres not just on voice and body language but specifically the way she holds and / or turns her head (in terms of posture and position, not physically holding her head in her hands)). Although Emma is vulnerable, Echegui gives her enough steel that you are confident that she will come out of her experiences in one piece. I am shortchanging the men somewhat by not discussing them, but that would give away too much of the plot. This is an interesting directorial debut from Roberto Pérez Toledo and I look forward to seeing what he does next.
   When I wrote about Balada triste de trompeta last year, I said that I was intrigued to see what Álex de la Iglesia did next given that the film felt so much like an accumulation of his work to date. La chispa de la vida (literally 'The spark of life', which makes more sense as a title than the official international one (As Luck Would Have It) because the protagonist is credited with inventing that slogan for Coca-Cola) was what came next. It is quite an angry film and directs its anger at the economic crisis and the treatment of people lower down the food chain by those in power (specifically how the banks treat people -there's a very pointed line from Roberto (José Mota) about having been a client of the same bank for eighteen years, but when he missed two mortgage payments they treated him like a thief). Through Roberto, an unemployed adman who is having an extremely bad day -having first grovelled to an old friend for a job only to be humiliatingly turned down, and then (through a series of unfortunate events) found himself stuck at a 'site of historical interest' with a metal bar puncturing his skull and the media in full attendance- de la Iglesia has in his focus the desperation of the unemployed and angrily asks what the price of dignity is.
   At the same time, the film is also a scathing critique of the media circus that increasingly springs into action at the scenes of accidents and tragedies. Roberto, pinned to the ground by the metal bar like a butterfly pinned down and examined under a microscope (we frequently see him through the POV of television cameras and on screens of varying sizes -a distancing device that allows those profiting from the story to put their humanity to one side- and it's noticeable that the scenes with his family (headed by Salma Hayek as his wife) are not shot in that way) is exploited by a matrix of self-interest that takes in money, politics, and prestige, but has little time for basic human decency. The film is however oddly muted despite the anger that flares up. There are many familiar faces among the cast but little of the jet black humour that usually permeates de la Iglesia's work and that is one of his distinctive characteristics. We will have to wait to see if this is a mark of things to come in the longer term, but his next film, Las brujas de Zugarramurdi / The Witches of Zugarramurdi (due in 2013 and starring a trio of women who have worked with him multiple times before -Carmen Maura, Terele Pávez and Carolina Bang), sounds more in keeping with his previous films. It's a shame that the DVD doesn't have a director's commentary because it feels like he felt compelled to make La chispa de la vida (aside from being very topical it also seemed to come hot on the heels of Balada triste de trompeta) and I'd be interested to know a bit more about his thoughts on it.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Grupo 7 / Unit 7 (Alberto Rodríguez, 2012)

   Grupo 7 takes place in Seville between 1987 and 1992 when the city was being cleared of 'undesirables' in the run up to playing host to Expo 92. We follow one of the police units charged with running the drug dealers out of town and removing drugs from the streets, a unit that already has a reputation for violence at the point at which we join the story. I included the film in my post about 10 Spanish films I was looking forward to in 2012, and said that it was a possible Spanish Training Day (I'd seen that film mentioned in relation to it). But actually although the initial set-up -a new officer, Ángel (Mario Casas), joins a team headed by a dominant and violent alpha male (Rafael -Antonio de la Torre, excellent as ever) who is unafraid to get violent to get results- points to a typical 'rookie officer faces trial by fire and conflicting loyalties but eventually proves his moral worth'-type narrative, this film flips that because Ángel arguably turns out to be the worst of the bunch. 
   He takes readily to the violence but he is also willing to go beyond 'stretching the rules' to 'breaking the law' in a way that initially stuns the other men. Arguably the lengths that he will go to, and his lack of emotional engagement with the people whose lives he places in danger -not only his wife (Inma Cuesta) but also informant Joaquin (Julian Villagran) and the team's criminal accomplice, La Caoba ('Mahogany') (Estefania de los Santos, who walks a tightrope between nerviness and brash bravado in her scenes)- remain problematic for the other members of the team (Rafael, Mateo (Joaquín Núñez), and Miguel (José Manuel Poga)). For me, Ángel is the weak point of the film (although that's not a criticism of Casas's performance -he does what is required of him) because although he is initially the audience's route into the narrative, I don't think we really get an explanation for his behaviour or a clear idea of his motives (is it boy-scoutery taken to dangerous extremes, is it the money, a desire to impress, or something else?). In contrast, Rafael emerges as a character with hidden depths and an emotional basis for his behaviour (and he also develops as a character as the film progresses), quite different to the stereotypical 'brutal cop' he appears to be in the opening scenes.
   This is a well-made and slick action film / thriller with an array of interesting characters and a narrative that hooks you from the outset and doesn't let go for the duration. It is a sign of the film's quality that it has been shortlisted (alongside Blancanieves / Snow White (Pablo Berger, 2012) and El artista y la modelo / The Artist and the Model (Fernando Trueba, 2012)) to represent Spain at the Oscars. I'd like to revisit in the future when I've had the chance to rewatch it and listen to the audio commentary (Antonio de la Torre and director Alberto Rodríguez), possibly to consider it in the context of style and/or genre. 

Friday, 7 September 2012


   As you can see, I've had a bit of a redesign of the blog. It's purely cosmetic; everything is still in the same place and with the same layout. I just fancied a bit of a change. I'm not sure about having the sidebar partly transparent, but I'm going to leave it for a while and see how I get used to it.
   I've now got some time off work before going back to my normal contract, so let the film watching begin! It'll probably be another week before I start posting properly again but over the next few weeks I should be able to get back into a routine with my viewing and posting.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Not-Entirely-Random Viewing: Carlos Saura edition

Clockwise from top left: Sevillanas (1992), Flamenco (1995),  Iberia (2005), Fados (2007).

    I mentioned a few posts back that I'm considering doing another month-long project on a Spanish filmmaker, in the way that I did 'Almodóvar Month' last August. Saura is the filmmaker I'm considering writing about, mainly because I've realised that I've seen surprisingly few of his films. Is say 'surprisingly' because of the longevity of his career (he directed his first feature, Los golfos / The Delinquents, in 1960 and has now directed more than forty or so films to date), a number of his films are considered key works in Spanish cinema (most notably La caza / The Hunt (1966) and Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (1976)), and also because he is one of the few Spanish directors whose name has some sort of cachet outside of Spain. Despite the fact that a lot of his films were reissued on DVD only a few years ago, they are now difficult to come by and a significant number are simply unavailable (strangely (to my mind, at least) this includes two films he made with Antonio Banderas). Looking at the availability of DVDs and titles that are currently supported by VOD platforms (quite a few of Saura's films are available at Filmotech), I think I can get access to around 26 of his films -I am slowly acquiring the DVDs that are available at a reasonable price (I recently broke my own rule about how much one should pay for a DVD and ended up getting burnt by what appears to be a counterfeit in the process -lesson learned), so we'll see how I go. His films will probably continue to appear in the Random Viewing thread until I make up my mind as to whether or not to make a project of it or not -I may hold off and do some sort of retrospective when his next film, 33 días / 33 Days (about Picasso (Antonio Banderas) and the painting of Guernica), gets released. The number of his films that revolve around music and dance is also a bit off-putting for me, given how little I know about those elements. But they are integral to his career as a filmmaker, so I'll have to give that some thought as well.
Ordinarily, if I'm planning some sort of retrospective, I work through the films chronologically. But while looking for trailers of the films (to give me some sort of idea of them) on youtube, I discovered that Sevillanas (1992) and Flamenco (1995) were on there in their entirety; as they're both currently OOP, I decided to watch them first before they disappeared. Iberia (2005) is available at Filmin and I bought Fados (2007) on DVD from Having watched Flamenco Flamenco (2010) last year I knew what to expect in terms of format, but one can also see a progression in terms of filming style across these four films.
    Although each varies in emphasis in terms of the balance between dance and song / music, performance is centre stage; there is no 'narrative' as such in these films, but rather a series of performances that hang together as a cohesive whole due to their shared roots. All four films take place in cavernous, warehouse-like spaces that are divided up with screens and mirrors. The screens change between being opaque and transparent, either through use of lighting or the projection of images, creating a play of shadows and / or silhouettes, light and colour, or sometimes a trompe l'oeil effect, depending on the atmosphere required by the particular performance being showcased (the trailers for Iberia and Fados show this more clearly than I am able to describe). When the projection of images onto the screens include the dancers actually performing in the sequence, a kaleidoscope-like effect of duplication and mirroring takes place, often disappearing into infinity on the screen. Likewise, there are also some The Lady from Shanghai-esque effects using the mirrors. Obviously sound is also important but I feel under-qualified to discuss that side of it -although it is a shame that the soundtracks don't seem to be readily available here as some of the music is of a goosebump-inducing quality. In Flamenco Flamenco Saura names the performers (and the title of the song / performance) in a subtitle at the start of each sequence, but in these earlier films we just get the titles -although I recognised some of the names in the opening credits, I generally had to wait until the closing credits to work out who sang / danced what.
I don't really have anything else to say about these films at the moment, but if I take on the project, I'll revisit them (and do some research).

   The blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks, but once we get into September my work situation will revert back to what it was this time last year and I should be able to start posting more regularly again and with a bit more variety in content.

Friday, 10 August 2012

London Spanish Film Festival

   The eighth edition of the festival (hosted at the Institut Français) runs between the 28th September and 10th October with a broad programme including thirty feature-length titles and a short film sidebar. As with previous years, there will be Catalan and Basque sidebars (or 'Windows') and a new strand entitled 'Treasure from the Archive', which this year will screen Un, dos, tres, al escondite inglés (dir. José Luis Borau and Iván Zuleta, 1969). The 'Special Feature' focuses on Luis Tosar, with screenings of Te doy mis ojos / Take My Eyes (Icíar Bollaín, 2003), Los lunes al sol / Mondays in the Sun (Fernando León de Aranoa, 2002), Flores de otro mundo / Flowers from Another World (Icíar Bollaín, 1999), Casual Day (Max Lemcke, 2007), and The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009). The actor will be interviewed about his career before the screening of Mientras duermes / Sleep Tight (Jaume Balaguero, 2011) (part of the 'Catalan Window' strand).
   The most intriguing aspect of the programme for me is a section called 'Acting Across Frontiers', which will examine the acting registers fostered in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. A series of actors will introduce three of his films: Antonia San Juan will introduce the screening of Todo sobre mi madre / All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999) (elsewhere in the festival she will also be introducing her second film as a director, Del lado del verano/ The Summer Side (2011)) on 30th September; Lluís Homar will introduce Los abrazos rotos / Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar, 2009) on 1st October; and Marisa Paredes will introduce La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (Pedro Almodóvar, 1995) on 2nd October. All three actors will be in conversation with Professor Maria Delgado on 1st October in a session titled 'Acting Almodóvar'.
   Other highlights include screenings of Extraterrestre / Extraterrestrial (Nacho Vigalondo, 2012), Los pasos dobles / The Double Steps (Isaki Lacuesta, 2011), Grupo 7 / Unit 7 (Alberto Rodriguez, 2012), Lobos de Arga / Game of Werewolves (Juan Martínez Moreno, 2011), and Carmina o revienta (Paco León, 2012).
   Various directors, actors, and writers will be in attendance -you can find more details, and the full programme, on the festival website.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Yet More Random Viewing

Carmina o revienta (Paco León, 2012), Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo / Katmandu, A Mirror in the Sky (Icíar Bollaín, 2012).

     Carmina o revienta (the title isn't really translatable, but as Jonathan Holland's Variety review points out, it's a play on words in relation to El Lute: Camina o revienta (Vicente Aranda, 1987)) is actor Paco León's directorial debut. As the film was made with his own money (and he was therefore not bound by the conditions involved in using state funds -namely that there has to be a window between theatre and DVD releases), he decided that he had an opportunity to take a risk and make the film Spain's first multi-platform release -it was made simultaneously available on DVD (for under 5€), on pay-per-view TV and online (on various VOD sites for 2,95€), and in cinemas (although by all accounts the cinema chains were not overly supportive of this strategy). In effect he has opened up the possibility of an alternative distribution model for the Spanish film industry (and a possible method of combatting piracy -making cinema available at an affordable price) -it will be interesting to see if others are able to follow in his footsteps (or indeed develop the idea further).
     The film itself is a family affair -the Carmina of the title is Carmina Barríos, León's mother, and her onscreen daughter is her real daughter, María León (recipient last year of several acting awards for La voz dormida / The Sleeping Voice (Benito Zambrano, 2011)). Part mockumentary, part shaggy-dog tale, and wholly a love letter from a son to his mother, the film blurs the real and the fictional (several of the vignettes in this picaresque tale are based on real events in León's family history, but he's coy as to which ones) with performances that are both naturalistic (there is a natural ease between the various performers -for obvious reasons- but the comedy is also unforced) and bowl-you-over (Carmina is not easily forgotten). A series of flashbacks to incidents that have befallen the family in the recent past fit within a framework of Carmina, sitting at her kitchen table in the dark, talking straight to camera. The flashbacks form a cumulative narrative (the events / incidents shown are not quite as haphazard as they first appear) that underpin Carmina's attempt to keep her family financially afloat. It is a bold and stylish first feature -I look forward to seeing what this family come up with next.
      Icíar Bollaín's También la lluvia / Even the Rain (2010) is one of the films I've liked most so far this year, so I was looking forward to Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo, especially as I think that Verónica Echegui is a talent on the rise. One of the distinctive things about Bollaín's films (although También la lluvia is an exception on this point) is that she prioritises the female perspective and the female experience. So within this story (inspired by a true story) of a catalan woman, Laia (Echegui), struggling to set up a school to teach poverty-stricken children in Nepal, besides showing us Laia's experiences (a marriage of convenience to Tsering (Norbu Tsering Gurung) to allow her to stay in Nepal, that turns into something else, and flashbacks to key events in her life that propelled her on her mission) we also glimpse the lives of the other women she comes into contact with. This includes her assistant, Sharmila (Sumyata Battari), who is under family pressure to bear a son and whose interactions with the families that Laia wants to help (at the bottom of the caste system) are seen as bringing disgrace and bad luck on her house, and also the mothers of the children at the school. We are shown the low place of women in the societal pecking order and the exploitation of children, but also that Laia has to learn to understand this (alien) culture if she wants to change things within it. Ultimately though, while admirable and well-intentioned, this meant that the film seemed to have too many narrative strands than it was able to fully develop. Also, Echegui did not appear entirely comfortable acting in English (which made up the majority of her dialogue), or at least not as at ease as she is in Spanish, but she is one of those actors who can convey a lot with a single glance and she made for a spirited protagonist. So, not entirely successful, but still worth seeking out if you get the chance.

There won't be a post next week, but I'll be back the week after.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

More Random Viewing

Promoción fantasma / Ghost Graduation (Javier Ruíz Caldera, 2012), Pablo G. del Amo: Un montador de ilusiones / Pablo G. del Amo: An editor of dreams (Diego Galán, 2005).

    This is probably the most random combination of films I've written about so far. Promoción fantasma is a paranormal comedy with a distinctly 80s feel to it (think The Goonies meets The Breakfast Club, with a bit of Ghostbusters thrown in for good measure). Modesto (Raúl Arévalo) is a teacher who sees ghosts. All the time. Searching for another new job, he is hired by Alexandra Jiménez's headteacher, Tina, to a school with a history of strange goings-on, and unexplained incidents that are becoming increasingly violent and disruptive. The source of the disruption are five teenagers (Javier Bódalo, Anna Castillo, Andrea Duro, Alex Maruny, and Jaime Olías) who died in a fire at the school (while they were in detention during the end of year party) twenty years ago, and who are increasingly frustrated that they are stuck within the school grounds. Informed that ghosts cannot pass over into the afterlife if they have an unresolved problem, Modesto thinks he knows what their collective issue is: they need to graduate. So he sets about trying to teach them, but it isn't that simple... Yes, it's corny, it's crude, and Carlos Areces (here playing the self-appointed head of the school's Parent Association) once again bares his backside onscreen, but it has a lot of heart and I found it (admittedly, childishly) funny. Raúl Arévalo is one of those actors who can switch between comedy and pathos in the blink of an eye and for me his name is already a signal that a film is worth watching. Expect a more in-depth post on his films later in the year. I've also really liked Alexandra Jiménez in three films I've seen her in -she is another one to watch out for.
     Pablo G. del Amo: Un montador de ilusiones is a documentary about the editor who was one of the key figures in Spanish cinema for more than a 40 years. Editors generally receive very little attention, but as is mentioned within the film, an editor can make the difference between a good or mediocre film. What becomes clear as director after director lines up to sing his praises (he edited films for Victor Erice, Carlos Saura, and Fernando Fernán Gómez, among many others -including key titles such as El espiritú de la colmena / The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) and La caza / The Hunt (Carlos Saura, 1965)), is that Pablo G. del Amo was the editor to work with for Spanish filmmakers of several generations. What marked him out was his preparation (he read the scripts, which apparently wasn't usual), his meticulousness and organisation in the editing room, the thought that he put into a cut (he didn't just think about the scene but also how it fitted into the film as a whole and what it was supposed to 'say'), and his willingness to argue his case (more than one of the directors interviewed recalls being instructed by him to reshoot a scene, and where to put the camera for the reshoot -they duly complied). The other element that marked his life was the four years he spent in prison during the Franco regime for being a member of the Communist Party. When he was released, he was unable to get work in Spain as he had been blacklisted, so he moved to exile in Portugal (at that time also a dictatorship) where he participated in what would come to be considered a 'new wave' of Portuguese cinema. After prison he became disillusioned with the Party (or at least fellow members thereof) but remained a man of convictions who was widely admired by those he worked with, not only for his abilities as an editor, but also as someone who stood up for what he believed in (in a variety of contexts). The documentary is only just over an hour, but is fascinating viewing and well worth seeking out if you get the opportunity (the DVD available in Spain has optional English subtitles).

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Random Viewing

Anita no perd el tren / Anita no pierde el tren / Anita Takes A Chance (Ventura Pons, 2000), Silencio en la nieve / Silence in the Snow (Gerardo Herrero, 2012).

     I actually watched the Ventura Pons film a few months ago but accidentally missed it out of the Random Viewing thread at the time. Rosa María Sardà (fabulous -the film is worth watching for her conversations with herself alone, not to mention her chuckle) plays Anita. Anita has worked in a cinema box-office for the past 34 years, only to find herself without a job when the owner sells up while she is on holiday (to add insult to injury, the holiday was a 'bonus' for so many years loyal service). On her first day back at work she arrives to find the cinema demolished and a building site in its place. Unable to let go of this key location in her life, and needing a sense of routine, she takes to visiting the site every day, becoming a kind of mascot for the builders and falling in love with the man who drives the excavator (Jose Coronado -also on winning form). Despite that description of the set up, this is not a Hollywood-style romantic drama and it is all the more satisfying for that. It is a funny and warm film -you laugh with Anita, not at her. It's the first of Pons' films that I've seen, but I'll be tracking down some more of them, particularly the other ones that he has made with Sardà.
      Silencio en la nieve was in my 'ten forthcoming Spanish films to look out for in 2012' post, but sadly it didn't quite live up to my expectations. It has an original set up: as far as I can tell, it is the only Spanish film to take the Division Azul (Blue Division) as its backdrop. The Division Azul were a division of Spanish soldiers who volunteered to fight on the Russian Front alongside the Germans in World War Two (communism being a common enemy). The film takes place on the Russian Front in 1943, when a series of murders lead the Spanish high command to hand the investigation to a soldier who in civilian life was a police detective (Juan Diego Botto). Carmelo Gómez acts as a kind of assistant to the investigation (although as far as I could make out, his character outranks Botto's) and is frankly under-utilised. The setting is the most interesting aspect of the film, because it quickly turns into an average serial killer narrative -although not without some striking imagery (such as the frozen horses that feature in the trailer). I felt that a bit more political context was needed (there are several different political factions and allegiances at play, both in the investigation and the crimes themselves) -but this may be because of a) my general ignorance of this slice of Spanish history, and b) I watched it without subtitles, so some nuances were probably lost (although, that said, my addiction to crime fiction novels put me in good stead to unpick the plot). Well made, but not quite what I had anticipated

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hasta pronto-ish

Well, that clearly didn't go to plan!
I will be back soon but in the past month I've only watched one Spanish film, so I need to get back into some sort of viewing schedule before I'm up and running again. The good news is that although I haven't been watching many films recently, I have been building up a stockpile of books and DVDs -so no shortage of materials for future posts!
In the pipeline: another one of my book / reading materials lists, this time on directors and actors; an occasional series on contemporary actors; something on Enrique Urbizu's thrillers; and possibly another month-long project focussed on one director. Those will pop-up at different points during the rest of the year.
Hopefully I will be back with 'Random Viewing'-style posts in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Hasta pronto

Nobody Knows Anybody will be staying quiet for the rest of the month. I'm aiming to be back after the bank holiday weekend at the start of June.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Post no.100: Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999)

    So I thought it about time (what with this being my 100th post) that I take a look at the film that gives this blog its name [I have kept it as spoiler-free as possible]. As will be apparent (through previous posts), my area of research has been star studies, specifically contemporary Spanish stardom and how interactions that actors / stars have with the national (i.e. concepts of ‘Spanishness’) change over time. I had four case studies that examined the careers of actors who started working in cinema at different points in the fifteen-year period I was looking at; this made it possible to track gradual changes undergone by Spanish stardom in terms of the form and content of star images in relation to the national. That is the prism through which I first saw Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999): as a piece of the puzzle in considering these issues in relation to the career of Eduardo Noriega. In relation to the people I took as case studies, Noriega emerged in the mid-1990s when the stardom of Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz was still in ascension, and Paz Vega (the fourth of my case studies) had yet to appear. He therefore overlaps two distinct ‘groups’ (I’m deliberately avoiding the word ‘generation’) of Spanish stars from the contemporary period: that of Bardem, Cruz and Jordi Mollà, and that of Vega and the El otro lado de la cama (Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, 2002) gang, and arguably that is manifested in how his stardom and his interactions with the national share different traits with both groups. The Spanish press has constructed a star narrative for Noriega that aligns him with an illustrious predecessor, by seizing on the fact that he is from Santander and travelled to Madrid to study acting in 1992 (the key is that he is not madrileño); several profiles draw parallels between the malagueño Antonio Banderas going to Madrid and becoming a ‘chico Almodóvar’ in the 1980s and the santanderino Noriega going to Madrid and becoming a ‘chico Amenábar’ in the 1990s (Díaz-Cano 1999:16). 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Random Viewing

Crebinsky (Enrique Otero, 2011), La torre de los siete jorobados / The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville, 1944).

   Crebinsky was on my list of films from last year that I wanted to catch up with, having heard positive things about it as it played at film festivals. It is the story of two brothers (played by Miguel de Lira and Sergio Zerraeta) who as children are washed away from their village during a flash flood (seen in an animated prologue to the film proper) and who now live along the coastline with their cow, Mushka. This is the 1940s but they are oblivious to world events unfolding around them (and out at sea -Luis Tosar plays an American submarine commander) and when a Nazi pilot crash lands onto their beach, they are more interested in his boots and a nice flashing red light than concerned as to who he is. This sets in motion a 'plot' whereby the brothers wander around looking for the wilful Mushka whilst unwittingly being pursued by Nazis looking for their missing pilot (the flashing red light is a tracking device). The film is most often compared to the work of Jean Pierre Jeunet and it does have some traits in common with his films (for example, the semi-muteness and innocence of the protagonists, and a level of gurning that suggests that Dominique Pinon might be giving lessons) but visually it is quite different to Jeunet's distinctive style. That said, I think that director Enrique Otero might share a key inspiration with Jeunet, most notably evidenced through their shared delight in contraptions: namely the illustrator / inventor Heath Robinson. At least, that is the connection that these English eyes saw. The film has an enjoyable line in absurd humour and overall I'd recommend it.
    With the second film I have to start with an admission of ignorance. Until very recently I'd never heard of Edgar Neville, never mind seen any of his films -but he was a key figure in the Spanish cinema of his era, with many of his films regarded as classics. La torre de los siete jorobados is described on Filmin's website as 'the first Spanish cult movie' and one of the classics of fantasy cinema. A young (and somewhat naive) man, Basilio, receives a tip-off at the roulette table from a mysterious, eye-patched man, and wins a lot of money. The man with the eyepatch (who nobody else seems to see) turns out to be Professor Robinson de Mantua, an archeologist murdered exactly one year ago: he is a ghost. He has returned because he needs help to protect his niece from the men who murdered him. Basilio agrees to help. What follows is an atmospheric tale of derring-do, ghosts, secret codes, and subterranean lairs (some of the set design is awesome). And hunchbacks. Lots of them. I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Another Book Added

Torres Hortelano, L. J. (ed) (2012) - World Film Locations: Madrid, Bristol: Intellect Books. ISBN: 9781841505688.

'When a book on cinema is launched, the first thing that one might try to do is figure out exactly what type of book it is. The book may be aimed at cinephiles, academic scholars or even those who just love to talk about movies. The World Film Locations series does not fit comfortably into any of those categories. What readers will find are the myths and the facts that explain what cinema is today through the representation of the city. We can see what remains today from the early twentieth up to the twenty-first century, and also what cinema has become. Movies are one of the most powerful cultural means of expression and catalyst for society. This series focuses on the representation of an area that was born alongside cinema: the city.' (p.5)

   Part cinematic appreciation, part travel guide, this book is effectively a love letter to Madrid and its various onscreen incarnations. It brings together seven bite-sized essays on various aspects of Madrid's representation(s) on film with an examination of forty-four scenes from different films. The introduction states that the 'criterion for the selection of films is not so much the length of footage that is dedicated to the city [...] but the importance of the scenarios, buildings or monuments in the narrative of the film, as well as the intrinsic role of the city of Madrid to the film as a whole' (p.5). The scenes are arranged throughout the book in chronological order (dating from 1912 to 2009), so we get a sense of change over time not just in terms of how the city has been utilised onscreen but also how the city itself has evolved. Each 'set' of scenes includes a map with the locations marked on it, and the two pages that each film receives include stills from the scene in question as well as photographs of the locations as they are today. The discussion of each scene is only a paragraph long but that's enough in most cases to give you a taste of the film and how the scene and its use of the city fit within the film overall. Having felt that Intellect's Directory of World Cinema: Spain was a bit light on a particular high-profile director, I was pleased to see that several of his films appear in this volume: a consideration of Madrid as a cinematic city would be seriously lacking if it did not give Pedro Almodóvar a certain prominence. But there are a range of films and directors included, including non-Spanish films that have sequences set in Madrid. Overall, I felt that the bite-sized essays take some interesting angles on the book's theme, and the scene discussions serve as a good taster for the films (there are certainly some that I haven't seen, but will now try to track down). Recommended.
I will add the title to the Books on Spanish Cinema, Part Two post. The list of contents (including film titles) is below.

Madrid: City of the Imagination -Lorenzo J. Torres Hortelano
Scenes 1-8 (1912-1951):
Asesinato y entierro de Don José de Canalejas / The Assassination and Burial of Don José de Canalejas (Enrique Blanco and Adelardo Fernández Arias, 1912), El sexto sentido / The Sixth Sense (Nemesio Sobrevilla, 1929), La verbena de la paloma / Fair of the Dove (Benito Perojo, 1935), La torre de los siete jorobados / Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville, 1943), Domingo de carnaval / Sunday Carnival (Edgar Neville, 1945), Siempre vuelven de madrugada / They Always Come at Dawn (Jerónimo Mihura, 1948), El último caballo / The Last Horse (Edgar Neville, 1950), Surcos / Furrows (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1951).
Madrid in Motion: Squares, Corralas, Markets, Verbenas -José Luis Castro de Paz and José Ramón Garitaonaindía de Vera
Scenes 9-16 (1955-1965):
Muerte de un ciclista / Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955), El inquilino / The Tenant (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1957), El pisito / The Little Apartment (Marco Ferreri, 1958), El cochecito / The Little Car (Marco Ferreri, 1960), The Happy Thieves (George Marshall, 1961), La gran familia / The Great Family (Fernando Palacios, 1962), El mundo sigue / Life Goes On (Fernando Fernán-Gómez, 1963), Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965).
Iván Zulueta: Films of Madrid's Underground -Steven Marsh
Scenes 17-24 (1967-1984):
La busca / The Search (Angelino Fons, 1967), Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (Carlos Saura, 1976), Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Life (Carlos Saura, 1977), Ese oscuro objeto de deseo / That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977), Asignatura pendiente / Unfinished Business (José Luis Garci, 1977), Maravillas (Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, 1980), Las bicicletas son para el verano / Bicycles Are For the Summer (Jaime Chávarri, 1984), ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!! / What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Pedro Almodóvar, 1984).
Embracing Normalcy: Madrid Gay Cinema at the Turn of the New Millennium -Helio San Miguel
Scenes 25-32 (1987-1997):
La ley del deso / Law of Desire (Pedro Almodóvar, 1987), Siesta (Mary Lambert, 1987), ¡Atame! / Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Pedro Almodóvar, 1990), El día de la bestia / Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia, 1995), La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (Pedro Almodóvar, 1995), Nadie hablará de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto / Nobody Will Speak of Us When We Are Dead (Agustín Díaz Yanes, 1995), Tesis / Thesis (Alejandro Amenábar, 1996), Barrio / Neighbourhood (Fernando León de Aranoa, 1997).
Madrid: Unexpected Dream Factory -Helio San Miguel
Scenes 33-38 (1997-2002):
La buena estrella / Lucky Star (Ricardo Franco, 1997), Abre los ojos / Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997), Segunda piel / Second Skin (Gerardo Vera, 1999), El corazón del guerrero / Heart of the Warrior (Daniel Monzón, 2000), Lucía y el sexo / Sex and Lucía (Julio Medem, 2000), Hable con ella / Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002).
Beyond the Cliché: Madrid in Twenty-First Century American Thrillers -John D Sanderson
Scenes 39-44 (2003-2009):
Noviembre / November (Achero Mañas, 2003), Camarón (Jaime Chávarri, 2005), The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007), Deception (Marcel Langenegger, 2008), Los abrazos rotos / Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar, 2009), The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009).
Bright Young Things: Neo-existentialism in Madrid Cinema of the 1990s -Rafael Gómez Alonso
Contributor Bios

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Random Viewing

El crack (José Luis Garci, 1981), Arrugas / Wrinkles (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011)

   El crack is a noirish detective story (it opens with a dedication to Dashiell Hammett) set in then-present day Madrid. It has a relatively straightforward plot (and one scene that made me jump), as Alfredo Landa's sad-eyed private detective investigates the disappearance of a businessman's daughter and quickly finds that powerful people don't want him sticking his nose into the affair. Landa is the main reason for watching the film -up until this point he was known as a comedic actor, and so closely associated with a certain style of comedy film that a genre was named after him (landismo)- but here he shows a darker side. It was the beginning of a different stage of his career; a few years later he would win the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in Los santos innocentes / The Holy Innocents (Mario Camus, 1984) (shared with his co-star Francisco Rabal). The film has a sequel (the imaginatively-titled El crack 2), which I will endeavour to catch up with in the future.
   Arrugas won two Goya awards this year -Best Animated Film and Best Adapted Screenplay (the first time an animated film had won that category)- and also saw rave reviews after it was shown at San Sebastian last year (Peter Bradshaw uploaded a twitvid review calling it the ‘best film at San Sebastian’). Based on the comic book by Paco Roca, Arrugas follows the goings-on in an old people's home from the perspective of newcomer Emilio (voiced by Tacho González) and later that of his roommate, Miguel (Álvaro Guevara). The film manages to be moving, funny, sad (I cried) and, above all, sincere. A man's descent into Alzheimer's is not an expected subject for an animated film, but it works. I think in part because animation can lend itself to certain surreal touches / representations that might not have worked in a live action scenario (for example, as Emilio is introduced to other 'inmates', he turns back into a child reliving his first day at school, or perhaps a better example is the woman who spends her day gazing out of the window, convinced that she is on the Orient Express -her room turns into a lavish train compartment when seen through her eyes), but mainly because the characters are so believably human and the relationships between them ring true. Recommended.

Further reading:
Caparrós Lera, J.M. (2005) – La Pantalla Popular: El cine español durante el Gobierno de la derecha (1996-2003), Madrid: Ediciones Akal, S.A.
-has a chapter on José Luis Garci.
Jordan, B. and M. Allinson (2005) – Spanish Cinema: A student’s guide, London: Hodder Arnold
-Alfredo Landa is one of their case studies in their chapter on Spanish stars.
Mira, A. (2010) -The A-Z of Spanish Cinema, Plymouth: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
-has entries for both Garci and Landa.

Miguel, Antonia (Mabel Rivera), and Emilio enact their great escape in Arrugas

Monday, 2 April 2012

Festival Round-Up

    The London Spanish Film Festival hosts their second Spring Weekend between 20th -22nd April (the festival proper takes place in September). You can view the full programme here. Highlights include Arrugas / Wrinkles (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011) (which will feature in my next Random Viewing post because it is currently available at Filmin) and three of the films that either feature on my list of films to catch up with from last year / forthcoming this year  –Cinco metros cuadrados / Five Square Metres (Max Lemke, 2011), La chispa de la vida / As Luck Would Have It (Álex de la Iglesia, 2012), and Las Olas (Alberto Morais, 2012).
   In the virtual world, there are two film festivals that are either underway, or about to start. First is, the first online festival of Iberamerican cinema. The downside is that although the films are free if you are registered with Filmotech, they are restricted to viewers residing in countries classed as Iberamerican (so no viewing in the UK). But among the highlights of the fourteen films included is La mitad de Óscar (Manuel Martín Cuenca, 2011), which was one of my top five films last year –so well worth checking out if you are eligible for access.
    Meanwhile, Filmin is about to start their second Atlántida Film Fest, running between 4th April - 4th May. You can download a pdf of the festival brochure, detailing the films included and the prices, here. There are several intriguing-looking titles, including yet another from my list of films from last year that I wanted to track downCrebinsky (Enrique Otero, 2011).

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


As I indicated on twitter a couple of weeks ago, I've recently started a new job. It's a temporary secondment to a project rather than a completely new job, but it's fairly intensive at the moment and I've had little time to do anything blog-related for the past two weeks. The project runs until the end of June and I think it'll be another couple of weeks before I can write blog posts weekly again, but I'm aiming to start back posting at the start of April.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Random Viewing: Classic Edition

   This blog concentrates on cinema from the 1990s onwards, but I've recently been watching a series of older films and thought that I may as well include them in the Random Viewing thread.
   First up is La escopeta nacional / The National Shotgun (Luis García Berlanga, 1978). Berlanga is a key figure in Spanish cinema (and a strong influence over a range of filmmakers of different generations) but seemingly little-known outside of Spain (in terms of the UK, his films have not been released here). I had previously seen one of his earliest films, ¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! / Welcome, Mister Marshall! (1952), which I enjoyed very much, and I have copies of two of his other classics (Plácido (1961) and El verdugo / The Executioner (1963) (not watched yet)) but it's quite difficult to get hold of his other films. I have discovered that some of them are available to stream (without subtitles) at Filmotech, so I'm going to work my way through them. La escopeta nacional is the first part in a comedic trilogy (followed by Patrimonio nacional / National Heritage (1980) and Nacional III / National III (1982)). This first part is set during the dying days of the Franco regime and is a send-up of the bourgeoisie at play; a hunt (a recurring motif in Spanish cinema, in part because it was one of Franco's past-times) on the estate of a somewhat unhinged aristocratic family is the backdrop for familial backstabbing, political power plays and various other grotesqueries, seen through the eyes of a Catalan businessman (José Sazatornil) who just wants to make the connections to enable him to develop a new kind of door-entry intercom. One of Berlanga's cinematic traits is the use of large ensembles (with the attendant overlapping dialogue) and there is a brilliant range of faces onscreen here, including José Luis López Vázquez, Luis Escobar, Amparo Soler Leal, Luis Ciges, and a very young-looking Chus Lampreave (a recurrent figure in Almodóvar's films). I imagine that many references went over my head as I'm not overly familiar with Spanish society of this period, but the broader references and skewering of the hypocrisies of authority hit their target. Expect the next two parts of the trilogy to make an appearance on here in the future.
   Berlanga's first feature (Esa pareja feliz / This Happy Couple (1951)) was co-directed with Juan Antonio Bardem -and it was one of Bardem's key films that I watched next. Muerte de un ciclista / Death of a Cyclist (1955) opens with the titular death as a couple hit a cyclist while driving in the countryside. Fatally, they decide not to offer assistance (the cyclist is still alive when they stop) and flee the scene as they (María José -played by Lucia Bosé- and Juan -Alberto Closas) are having an affair and do not want to expose their relationship. The event impacts on them in the same way -it reveals their true natures- but with different results: Juan, a university professor, is tortured by guilt and finding the political idealism of his youth reawakened decides that the 'right thing' would be turn themselves in; but the shallowness of María José is revealed as it becomes apparent that she will protect her social status (she is married to an important man) at all costs and shows very little concern about the life that she ended (she was driving). Throw in a blackmailer (played with a wonderful Peter Lorre-esque sliminess by Carlos Casaravilla), who may know less than than he insinuates to María José but is close enough to her husband to cause problems, and the tension amps up to Hitchcockian proportions. The film is an effective suspense drama (will the police catch them? will their affair be exposed? how will they deal with the blackmail?) but Bardem also manages to make social commentary by highlighting the gap between rich and poor without turning the film into a political treatise. Muerte de un ciclista has received the Criterion treatment in the US but predictably is unavailable in the UK -although there does seem to be a region 2 Spanish disc. I watched it on Filmotech and it is well-worth seeking out. It is beautifully-shot and certain scenes are strikingly (and memorably) composed. I also liked the ambiguity of the final image. 

From the opening sequence of Muerte de un ciclista

Thursday, 1 March 2012

¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Film Festival: Fri 2 – Sun 18 March 2012

Just a short post from me this week.
If you're in the UK, you might be interested to know that the annual ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Film Festival starts tomorrow at the Cornerhouse in Manchester and runs until the 18th March. You can download the programme here -they've got a great array of films, including several that I've written about on here. I have long intended to go to the festival (which has talks / events as well as screenings), but unfortunately I am not going to make it this year -so if you go, enjoy!

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Goya Awards 2012: the winners

Jose Coronado and Enrique Urbizu

   I stayed up last night to ‘watch’ The Goya Awards 2012 through the power of twitter (a more enjoyable way to take in the results than actually watching the gala, to judge by some of the online commentary –although the spectacle of Juan Diego and Antonio Resines rapping is something I will have to catch up with). In the end, the prizes were quite evenly distributed between the five frontrunners (Blackthorn -4, Eva -3, La piel que habito -4, La voz dormida -3, No habrá paz para los malvados -6).
   The overall winner was No habrá paz para los malvados, which took the main prizes of Best Film, Director (Enrique Urbizu), Actor (Jose Coronado), and Original Screenplay (Michel Gaztambide and Enrique Urbizu), as well as Editing and Sound Mix. There were a few surprises –the awards had mainly seemed to be regarded as a battle between No habrá paz para los malvados and La piel que habito, but Blackthorn took four of the main technical prizes (including Cinematography and Production Design) and Pedro Almodóvar also missed out on Best Adapted Screenplay (which went to Arrugas, the first animated film to win in such a category). La piel que habito eventually went home with Best Actress (Elena Anaya), Best Male Newcomer (Jan Cornet –another of the surprises as it was widely expected to be won by Jose Mota for Álex de la Iglesia’s La chispa de la vida), Best Score (Alberto Iglesias), and Best Make-Up. I’ve not yet seen Eva or La voz dormida, so I cannot yet comment on the merits of Kike Maíllo winning Best New Director and Lluís Homar Best Supporting Actor for the former, or María León Best Female Newcomer and Ana Wagener Best Supporting Actress for the latter. Hopefully they will get a DVD release soon. On the other hand, I finally caught up with No habrá paz para los malvados at the weekend (post forthcoming) and can say that Coronado and Urbizu thoroughly deserve the successes that came their way.
Main category winners listed below (at some point I will add a link to the full list of winners on the Academy website, but it has been under attack and is not currently working):

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My current obsession:

"Balada Triste de Trompeta" Title Sequence from David Guaita on Vimeo.

    Balada triste de trompeta is one of the films that I'm hoping to write a longer piece about. At the moment, however, I have become slightly distracted by the opening credits, which manage to condense around forty years of Spanish history into just over two minutes. They are designed by David Guaita (incidentally, I think that all of the reviews I've read mention the opening credits in glowing terms, but none of them actually mention the name of the designer), and you can read an interview with him (in English) about the process of making the sequence on his blog.
    I think that he’s right that the sequence probably has more impact for a Spanish person, but even as a non-Spanish person who does not recognise every individual included (I’ve actually worked backwards by making a list of key figures in the regime and then googling them to find out what they looked like, and I also looked at the list of people thanked by Álex de la Iglesia in the end credits to put a few more names to (the non-political) faces), the combination of the music with the rhythm of the cuts and the intercutting with icons of horror cinema gives a sense of deep foreboding.
    When I’ve got a bit more time, I’ll write a detailed piece about it because I think that these two-and-a-bit minutes are a mini-masterpiece of filmmaking.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

My first Spanish film: Jamón, jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992)

Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and Jordi Mollá on set in 1991

   I wanted to write something to mark the first anniversary of the blog. I was in half a mind to write about the film that this blog takes its name from (Mateo Gil's Nadie conoce a nadie), but on balance decided that writing about the first Spanish film I ever watched was a better fit to the occasion. By happy coincidence, Jamón, jamón also celebrates a significant anniversary this year: it was released twenty years ago in Spain (in September 1992).

Monday, 6 February 2012

One Year Ago...

   One year ago today I took a leap into the unknown and started writing Nobody Knows Anybody. Sixty-six films and an Almodóvathon later, here we are.
   I don't know that the blog has turned out quite the way that I envisaged, but it has fulfilled its primary function of getting me writing again and kickstarting my brain. I haven't posted as many in-depth pieces as I originally intended (mainly due to my acquiring a (temporary) second job last September), but the blog has made me re-engage with film and probably also caused me to watch a broader variety of films than may otherwise have been the case. Although the shorter posts (either in the Random Viewing strand or short(ish) considerations of particular films) are likely to be the norm for the time being (my current work commitments last at least until the end of June), in the last few months I have started thinking about ideas for longer, more academic, pieces -thinking is as far as I've got in most instances due to lack of time, but just getting to that stage is a major step forward from where I was this time last year. It's exciting to experience the thrill of having an idea again -and to actually want to think something through and see where I can take it. [Although at the moment there is also an element of frustration due to the combination of my two shift patterns not being particularly conducive to anything that requires sustained thinking] I don't know whether these ideas will pan out, or whether they will end up on here -although some of them have already been mentioned in passing because they relate to things that I've said that I'm going to write that then haven't materialised- but it seems likely that they'll put in an appearance in some way because the ideas have sparked because of things I've watched or read to write about for Nobody Knows Anybody. Either way, writing this blog has been a constructive thing for me to do and I intend to keep it up.
   The other intention with Nobody Knows Anybody was to start a conversation in English about Spanish cinema. I haven't been overly successful on that side of things (although my heartfelt thanks to those of you who have either commented on here or chatted to me on twitter), but I don't feel too downcast about it because I can see that the posts are being read and visitor numbers have been steadily increasing. Someone once told me that a study had revealed that the average journal article takes six months to write and is then read by an average of two people (factor in that one of those is likely to be your mother, and that's not exactly a wide audience) -if I thought I was posting stuff into an abyss, I might feel differently, but that isn't the case. So thanks for stopping by!
   Anyway, this is just a short post to mark Nobody Knows Anybody's first birthday. On a similar theme, I thought that later in the week I might post something about the first Spanish film I ever saw (I'll keep you in suspense as to what it was / is. Clue: it is twenty years old this year).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Blackthorn (Mateo Gil, 2011)

Director: Mateo Gil.
Screenwriter: Miguel Barros.
Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott.

Blackthorn was among the first films I mentioned on this blog, so it seems appropriate that as Nobody Knows Anybody approaches its first birthday (next week) that I should finally get to see the film.
   The starting point for Blackthorn (full title Blackthorn, sin destino / Blackthorn, without destiny -a reference to the Spanish title for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -Dos hombres y un destino / Two Men and One Destiny) is the 'what if?' scenario of 'what if Butch and Sundance did not die in the shootout with the Bolivian army?' (there is evidence to suggest that that was the case). So we revisit Butch Cassidy, now with the alias James Blackthorn, after he has spent the best part of two decades breeding horses in the Bolivian mountains. I think that the location is a central part of the success of the film as it allows them to use the well-worn and cosily-familiar tropes of the Western but rework them in an unfamiliar setting; the lush green vegetation of the mountains and dazzling white of the salt flats (and the colours that come with them) are a world away from the usual dust-strewn landscapes of the traditional Western. The film is also beautifully shot: this is a film that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible to fully appreciate the way in which the characters are dwarfed by the vastness of the landscape. Gil has managed to make a film that feels intimate but plays out on a stage of awe-inspiring proportions.
   James Blackthorn has decided that it is time for him to return to the US; he sells his horses and empties his life savings from his bank account. But not long into his journey he is attacked by a man, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), who believes Blackthorn to be one of a group of men who has been pursuing him; in the ensuing scuffle Blackthorn's horse flees, taking 'my whole life' with him. When Eduardo explains that the men are pursuing him because he has robbed a local mine (he worked there as an engineer), and that he will replace Blackthorn's money if he helps him get to where he has hidden the money, Blackthorn seemingly has no option. The problem is that in the intervening years, while Blackthorn has been quietly living in isolation, the world has moved on in ways that he does not fully comprehend until it is too late; he misreads situations and people because he is still living in the past and the 'old' way of doing things. 
   Shepard makes the character his own (it probably helps that so much time is meant to have passed) and carries the film with ease. He is the only American in the cast -for financial reasons the majority of the cast had to be European. In the 'making of', Gil says that he wanted Eduardo Noriega for the role of the Spanish engineer because of the contrasting qualities of innocence and darkness that he brings, which lend the character ambiguity and put a question-mark over his trustworthiness (this is a key aspect of Noriega's star persona but it is also difficult to imagine Gil casting anyone else in the role given their history together). Stephen Rea wanders through the film almost like an escapee from a Graham Greene novel, first as a Pinkerton detective in pursuit of Butch and Sundance (there are flashbacks with different actors playing the younger Butch when he was still with Sundance) and then in the present in a kind of retirement as an Honorary Consul in a godforsaken town in the middle of nowhere. The film uses a mixture of English and Spanish in a naturalistic (and logical -the only conversations entirely in English are between Blackthorn and MacKinley (Rea), and those between Blackthorn and Eduardo switch back and forth between English and Spanish) fashion. The use of language is one of a series of contrasts that the film sets up along different themes (Bolivia / The US, the Indians / Gringos, 19th century / 20th century, and so on) and that I may revisit at some point in the future.
   Overall, this is a handsome production and a nostalgic elegy to the romantic ideals of the Old West. It was released on DVD in Spain at the start of January (and is also available in Region 1).  

Man made small by the vastness of nature (Blackthorn and Eduardo on horseback on the right of frame)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

More Random Viewing

Left to right: Catalunya über alles (Ramón Termens, 2011) and No controles (Borja Cobeaga, 2011).

Well, this is a good start to the year -two of the films that featured in my 'Ten films from 2011 to see in 2012' post.
Catalunya über alles consists of three stories that all take place in the same small town in Catalonia. The stories are told separately (i.e. one after the other) but there are overlaps (we see certain events from different perspectives and some location recur) and some minor characters appear in more than one of the narratives. The first story concerns a newly-released former prisoner who returns home to his mother's house but finds that the community is unwilling to accept him back (he was convicted of rape). At its centre is a taciturn, almost silent, performance by Gonzalo Cunill (as the ex-prisoner -none of the characters have names) that I found very moving, and I also liked that the viewer was deliberately wrong-footed as to the intentions of the character and the direction of the story. The second story features an immigrant (Babou Cham) searching for employment to support his family against the backdrop of a local politician's (Jordi Dauder) electoral campaign running on an anti-immigrant platform ('Catalan jobs for Catalan workers'). This story has its moments of levity -mainly in the scenes at home with the family- but there's also an undercurrent of racism that occasionally comes to the surface and is seen to be felt by the immigrant. The first two stories reveal an insularity and closedmindedness to the area; we see the town through the eyes of outsiders and it is an uncomfortable experience. The third story brings elements from the first two ((perceived) criminality and immigration) together through the circumstances of a local upstanding member of the community (Joel Joan) who, when returning early from a holiday, disturbs a burglar and pursues, shoots, and kills him. The burglar turns out to be a foreigner and the case becomes a tabloid star with the community divided into those who believe the man had the right the defend his home and those who are troubled by the manner of the burglar's death (the final shot was at close range). Again, the story is not quite as it seems, and I thought the film very cleverly put together (both the individual pieces and how they fit together as a whole), if somewhat sad.
In No controles Sergio (Unax Ugalde) is having a very bad New Year's Eve. Having parted company with his ex-girlfriend (Alejandra Jiménez) at the airport after a trip home (several months after breaking up, he still hasn't told his parents, so she has accompanied him over the holidays), a snow storm grounds his plane to Madrid and he finds himself stranded (without his luggage, of course) in a local hotel with someone he apparently went to school with (he doesn't remember him), Juancarlitros (Julián López). Bea (Jiménez) is also sent to the same hotel and before long Juancarlitros and his gang of commandeered misfits (Secun de la Rosa, Alfredo Silva, and Mariam Hernández) try to plot a way to get Sergio back with Bea and to stop her going to Germany with Ernesto (Miguel Ángel Muñoz). A series of catastrophic events follow. This is Borja Cobeaga's second film and it feels more mature than Pagafantas -whereas that first film was an out and out comedy, this is a more traditional romantic comedy and it is grounded in a believable reality. The comic creation of Juancarlitros could have overwhelmed the film but Cobeaga is careful not to let him take over the narrative; it is Sergio's story and his introversion plays nicely against Juancarlitros's oblivious and enthusiastic ineptitude. Furthermore, Ugalde is believably awkward as a man who can't bring himself to say what he really feels (or rather, who usually manages to say something other than what he wants) and the more serious scenes between he and Jiménez feel heartfelt; the film has a nice balance between humour and emotion.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Random Viewing

Left to right: También la lluvia / Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010), Oviedo Express (Gonzalo Suárez, 2007).

También la lluvia is a film I've been trying to get hold of for a while, but for some reason the DVD is like gold dust through mainstream sites (which allows the private sellers to demand ridiculous prices) -if anyone knows why, please leave a comment below because it seems very odd that something only released on DVD in 2011 is so difficult to get hold of. Anyway, it was well worth the effort because I really enjoyed it and it contains some quietly compelling performances. On a basic level it's about a Spanish film crew in Bolivia trying to make a film about Columbus's discovery of the New World, the indigenous resistance that followed, and the part played by priests in the whole saga -so a film about filmmaking, then, with Gael García Bernal as the idealistic director, Luis Tosar as the cynical producer, and Karra Elejalde (who won a Goya for his performance) as the faded big name actor playing Columbus. We see the usual arguments about production costs, and a series of self-absorbed (and self-righteous), bickering actors. But it develops into something far richer by setting up a series of parallels between the narrative of the film being made and the social circumstances they find being played out in Bolivia - there's Columbus and the New World / the film crew and Bolivia, and the Colonial power's desire for gold / a multinational company buying up Bolivia's water rights. The film crew find that they cannot ignore what is going on around them because they hire locals to play the indigenous population, and the man they hire to play the leader of the resistance (Juan Carlos Aduviri) is one of the key organisers of the protests against the multinational company that is taking over the national water supplies (a law makes it illegal for the locals to dig their own wells or to collect 'even the rain'). This makes it sound like it could be a worthy and dull affair but it's not. We think that we know the character 'types' that people are playing, but they are all changed by their experiences and turn out to be more well-rounded than first appears -e.g. the idealist does not, strictly speaking, live up to his own ideals, and the cynic (believably) discovers that some things are more important than money. I may revisit the film in the future in a longer post -if you get a chance to see it, do so, because it is one of the films that I've liked the most in recent months. 
Oviedo Express has certain similarities plotwise -in this case a visiting theatre troupe prepare to put on a version of La Regenta in Oviedo, and their arrival impacts on the lives of the locals (and vice versa), but that is where the similarity ends. It is a tragicomedy of sorts with a very starry cast (Carmelo Gómez! Aitana Sánchez-Gijón! Bárbara Goenaga! Maribel Verdú! Najwa Nimri! Jorge Sanz!) but it has a bit of a mean streak that leaves a bitter taste. Although it's probably not one that I will rewatch, it did have its moments -namely any scene with Maribel Verdú, and Carmelo Gómez's bit of business with his cape.