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.