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.