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