Saturday, 22 December 2012

My Top 5 Spanish Films Seen in 2012

   As I've said previously, because I don't live in Spain I usually see Spanish films a year or so after their original release -when they arrive on DVD, or increasingly when they appear on Filmin: my criteria for the top 5 of the year is that they have to have been released in Spain in either 2011 or 2012. I've watched fewer films this year, not because of lack of choice but rather a lack of time; I've had to be a bit pickier about what I've spent my time on and have probably not watched as wide a variety as last year. You will see that there are films included below that I have not yet written about on the blog (including three of my top five) -I haven't written any blog posts since the end of October, but I have been watching films. I'll probably write a Random Viewing round-up post in January to cover those additional films (although the ones that made the top 5 should have their own standalone posts).
   Of my top five I have got two films level in top position - they are completely different beasts but I couldn't choose between them

My Top Five:

=1. De tu ventana a la mía / Chrysalis (Paula Ortíz, 2012)
Trailer (subtitled)
This film wasn't really on my radar until Paula Ortíz was nominated for 'Best New Director' at the Goyas earlier this year. Having seen it, I'm now surprised that it didn't garner more attention because it is a stunning directorial debut - 'stunning' in both its ambition (it interweaves three stories from different eras) and its appearance (it is easily the most beautiful film I've seen this year). The film tells the story of three women in three different eras: in 1923, Violeta (Leticia Dolera) in the mountains; in 1941, Inés (Maribel Verdú) in the arid countryside; in 1975, Luisa (Luisa Gavasa) in the city. Each strand of the story has a distinct look: a burnished gold for Inés; blue for Luisa; and somehow Violeta appears almost to be viewed through glass. The review in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine observed that a different film would have focussed on the men in the stories - these women exist at the margins of history, they are those left behind, but Ortíz suggests that their bravery is no less remarkable. Essentially these are tales of love, loss, and surviving with dignity. I hope to write a longer post about it in the future.

=1. No habrá paz para los malvados / No Rest for the Wicked (Enrique Urbizu, 2011)
Trailer (not subtitled)
I watched this back in February, mentioned it in my post about the Goya winners (it won Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor) and fully intended to write a proper piece on it, perhaps in relation to Urbizu's other thrillers, but then work got in the way. I rewatched it last week and it still stands up as an expertly-made thriller without an ounce of fat on it: everything matters and everything has a pay off. Likewise Urbizu and co-writer Michel Gaztambide refuse to spoon-feed or talk down to the audience - they expect you to pay attention and read between the lines without obvious signposts or a character spouting exposition to keep you up to speed. This is all the more true because the central performance (Jose Coronado) is largely wordless; Santos Trinidad is somewhere between a lone wolf and a shark (he must keep moving) and is uncommunicative to the point of surliness. Are we meant to root for him? Sympathies are not straightforward because his motives are murky and tied to self-interest and he really has no idea about what he has stepped in to. Again, I hope to write a longer post (it is formally an interesting film with many layers and doubling) in the New Year.

3. Diamond Flash (Carlos Vermut, 2012)
Trailer (subtitled)
I put off watching this one right until the last minute because the amount of hype around it made me think that I could only find it disappointing. A cult/underground hit in Spain, positive word-of-mouth started spreading in the summer when it debuted on Filmin (part of a prize it had won on the festival circuit -it has recently had a DVD release) and whipped up almost to the point of hysteria (it has been talked about as one of the most dazzling debuts in the history of Spanish cinema -although I now can't find the reference for that specific comment). It is a difficult film to describe - and is probably best viewed with as little information as possible because its impact is in its otherworldly strangeness - but reduced to a basic outline, it starts with the disappearance of a child and then incorporates the stories of five women (Eva Llorach, Victoria Radonic, Ángela Villar, Rocío León, Ángela Boix) whose lives connect with Diamond Flash (Miquel Insua), a mysterious masked man. It is something of a cliché to describe a decidedly non-mainstream film as Lynchian, but Lynch's Lost Highway is the closest comparison I can make to the experience of watching the film; it is unsettling because you genuinely do not know where you are being taken. I watched it on Filmin but will buy the DVD in the New Year so that I can rewatch it and attempt to write something more detailed.

4. Blackthorn (Mateo Gil, 2011)
Trailer (in English)
This was the first film mentioned on this blog (which is named after Gil's directorial debut), so it seems fitting that it finds a place here. You can read the standalone post I wrote about it here - I don't think I've got anything more to add to that assessment, so I'll just say that I hope it doesn't take Gil another twelve years until his next film. Oh, and it's available on DVD in the UK (it had a cinema release here).

5. Carmina o revienta (Paco León, 2012)
Trailer (no subtitles)
The third directorial debut in my top 5, and along with Diamond Flash a sign of change in the landscape of Spanish cinema -certainly in distribution patterns at the very least. Making the film with his own money, actor Paco León circumvented the restrictive distribution rules that come with public funds (namely a three-month window between theatrical and DVD releases) and harnessing the power of twitter went for a simultaneous multi-platform release that has paid dividends...and led to his memorable comment that his mother (his lead actress) had done more to combat film piracy in Spain than the Ley Sinde. But none of that would matter if the film was not up to quality -but it is. With his mother (Carmina Barrios) centre-stage as a force of nature, and his sister (María León) in support, León created a warm paean to (his) family.

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Arrugas / Wrinkles (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011), Elefante blanco / White Elephant (Pablo Trapero, 2012), Extraterrestre / Extraterrestrials (Nacho Vigalondo, 2012), Grupo 7 / Unit 7 (Alberto Rodríguez, 2012), Lobos de Arga / Attack of the Werewolves (Juan Martínez Moreno, 2012), Promoción fantasma / Ghost Graduation (Javier Ruíz Caldera, 2012).

Films from 2011* that I still need to track down:
Mientras duermes / Sleep Tight (dir. Jaume Balagueró), La voz dormida / The Sleeping Voice (dir. Benito Zambrano), Eva (dir. Kike Maíllo), Blog (dir. Elena Trapé), No tengas miedo / Don't Be Afraid (dir. Montxo Armendáriz), Cinco metros cuadrados / Five Square Metres (dir. Max Lemcke). [I've got 5 of the 6 on DVD, so I should manage to see them soon]. * 2012 films will form the basis of a separate post.

Films that don't fit the 2011/2012 criteria but that you should definitely see:
También la lluvia / Even the Rain (Iciar Bollaín, 2010), El sur / The South (Víctor Erice, 1983), Muerte de un ciclista / Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955), La torre de los siete jorobados / The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville, 1944), Iberia (Carlos Saura, 2005), Pablo G. del Amo: un montador de ilusiones / Pablo G. del Amo: an editor of dreams (Diego Galán, 2006), El Productor / The Producer (Fernando Méndez-Leite, 2007).

Books of 2012:
The only book I wrote about this year was World Film Locations: Madrid, which gave bite-sized tasters of a wide range of films that utilise Madrid as a backdrop. In the second half of the year a few more Spanish cinema-related books have appeared: Manchester University Press released two more volumes in their Spanish and Latin American Filmmakers series with books on the work of Iciar Bollaín (by Isabel Santaolalla) and Alejandro Amenábar (by Barry Jordan); Wiley-Blackwell released A Companion to Spanish Cinema (edited by Jo Labanyi and Tatjana Pavlovic). At the more affordable end of the scale (that last book is an eye-watering £120), MUP released some of the earlier volumes in the series -including those on Álex de la Iglesia (by Peter Buse, Nuria Triana-Toribio and Andrew Willis) and Julio Medem (by Rob Stone)- in paperback for the reasonable price of £14.99. Hopefully the other volumes will receive the same treatment (the hardbacks are £65). I have managed to get the Bollaín book through the inter-library loan system and will attempt to do the same for the Amenábar and the Wiley-Blackwell volume in the New Year. There seem to be quite a lot of books on Spanish cinema due for release in 2013 and I'll take a look at them in a post in January.

The blog will be quiet now until January, when I will post my list of ‘Ten Spanish films from 2012 that I want to catch up with in 2013’, and ‘Ten Spanish films due to arrive in 2013’.

Feliz navidad!