Thursday, 17 January 2013

Random Viewing: Catch-Up Edition, part 1

   My posting will still be irregular in the coming months but I thought that I'd better attempt to do some sort of catch-up with the films I watched towards the end of the year - as De tu ventana a la mía and Diamond Flash were in my end-of-year top 5, they will get standalone posts at some point in the future, but the others will appear in Random Viewing posts.
    So, to the films. El Sur / The South (Víctor Erice, 1983) was the film that I hit a bit of a stumbling block with back in October. Sometimes I find myself face-to-face with a classic but with very little to say. As with Erice's El espíritu de la colmena / The Spirit of the Beehive, the film focuses on the POV of a child, in this case Estrella (played by Sonsoles Aranguren as a child, and future-director Iciar Bollaín as a teenager). Estrella is looking back on the events of her childhood (she narrates from the position of adulthood), specifically her relationship with her father (Omero Antonutti), so we get both a sense of how she saw things at the time and also how she views them with the benefit of hindsight - although it is also key that she admits early on in the narration to invention; what we are seeing is a mixture of memory and story-telling. But there are parts of her father's story that she doesn't know about / understand, and which are connected to his life (prior to her birth) in the South and a woman by the name of Irene Rios (Aurore Clément). I will point you in the direction of an article by Jo Evans (HT @drsolas on twitter), as I'm still quite stumped for words. The film is somewhat notorious in Spain because of the controversy over the ending - it was originally intended to be a three-part drama for TV but ended up as a 94 minute film - the plug was pulled by the producer, Elías Querejeta, part way through filming with (according to Erice) the understanding that the film would be 'completed' later (although the events surrounding the interruption of filming are still disputed -see below). As it was, when the 'first part' was released it was hailed as a masterpiece and filming never resumed - to this day, Erice insists that the film is only half finished. I think that the film 'works' at its current length, but it also ends at a point in the story where new narrative avenues are opening up (Estrella is about to travel to the South to find out more about her father). It is beautifully photographed by José Luis Alcaine - like a painting come to life in some of the interior scenes. The 2012 Spanish edition on DVD (and presumably on the blu-ray as well) comes with optional English subtitles and is available from Spanish sites (see the links in the right-hand sidebar) for around 7€ (I'm pointing this out because people are selling them for £20 on Amazon UK, which is quite a mark up).
   The controversy surrounding the making of El Sur brings me to the next film, the documentary El Productor / The Producer (Fernando Méndez-Leite, 2007), about the career of Elías Querejeta, one of Spain's most prolific producers and a key figure in the history of Spanish cinema. I had actually seen this before but watched it again to refresh my memory about what was said about El Sur (nothing clear-cut, as it turns out -the talking heads interviewed give a variety of accounts). Querejeta has worked through several different eras, including Francoism and state censorship (of the game of wits he played with the censors, Querejeta characterises his strategy as manipulation rather than capitulation - he usually cleverly got his way) and Agustín Almodóvar suggests that Querejeta's continued success and enduring reputation as someone with an eye for talent is down to his ability to adapt with social change and keep in step with the times. The documentary covers his career to date but focuses mainly on his collaborations in the 1960s and 1970s with Erice (various anecdotes about the making of El espíritu de la colmena) and Carlos Saura (the latter parted company with Querejeta around the time of Carmen (1983), but only because they were wanting to go in different directions and not because of a falling out (a rare case of 'artistic differences' being just that) - they are about to work together again). But also it also looks at the idea that there is 'the Querejeta stamp' on projects he produces, as he is very much a hands-on collaborator - there are varying accounts from the many directors interviewed as to just how they viewed that 'collaboration'. I will probably be revisiting the documentary again as I am going to have some sort of 'project' surrounding Saura's films and there's also this book on Querejeta's films, which looks interesting.