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)