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.