Thursday, 25 April 2013

Carlos Saura Challenge, Part 6: La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974)

Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Rafael Azcona, based on a story by Carlos Saura and Elías Querjeta
Cast: José Luis López Vázquez, Lina Canalejas, Fernando Delgado, Lola Cardona, María Clara Fernández de Loayza, Josefina Díaz, Encarna Paso, Pedro Sempson, Julieta Serrano.
Synopsis: 1973. Luis Cano (López Vázquez) travels from Barcelona to fulfil his late mother's wishes to have her remains interred in the family crypt in Segovia. The trip brings him face to face with the family members he stayed with during the Civil War and leads him to confront the memories and ghosts of his childhood.

   La prima Angélica is another of Saura's films that centres on the issue of memory and shares with El jardín de las delicias not only a lead actor (José Luis López Vázquez) but also the use of him to portray a character in both adulthood and childhood. We first see Luis-as-child when Luis-as-adult pulls his car to the side of the road as he sees Segovia in the distance and he becomes lost in the memory of the first time he was at this roadside - his father's car pulls up behind him and his mother (dressed in 1930s attire) comforts Luis and tries to reassure him about his stay with her side of the family (on the right, politically) in a safer area while his parents return to Barcelona. As the Civil War develops, Barcelona becomes cut off, and Luis will see out the war apart from his parents and in the midst of a family from the 'victorious' side. His return to Segovia as an adult in his 40s shows how those war years shaped the person he became and why he now feels the need to confront the past. D'Lugo observes that the film stands as 'the first compassionate view of the vanquished' (1991: 116):
'In choosing the theme of interdicted history -the Civil War years as remembered by the child of Republican parents- Saura pursues more than just the external demons of censorship that had suppressed all but the triumphalist readings of the war. He confronts the psychological and ethical traumas that the official distortions of the history of the war years in public discourse had conveniently ignored but that had scarred and even paralysed a generation of Spaniards' (1991: 115-116).
Quintana points out that in the context of Spain today, and the contentious issue of 'historical memory', 'Luis's character gains symbolic force as the first fictional character that recovers the power of memory as an act of resurrection of the hidden and of justice to that which is silenced' (2008: 95). La prima Angélica was controversial and had its release curtailed (one Barcelona cinema that screened it was firebombed), but also became the most commercially-successful film of Saura's career at that point (Quintana 2008: 87).
    As with El jardín de las delicias the past is not simply evoked, but reenacted. Although it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is being 'relived', as these are not the theatrical stagings of the earlier film but rather Luis weaving in and out of the present and the past as the return to the family apartment envelops him in memories. Another conceit that is repeated from earlier Saura films is to have the same actors playing more than one character: Lina Canalejas plays Angélica's mother in the 1930s segments and the grown-up Angélica in the present; María Clara Fernández de Loayza plays Angélica in the 1930s and the grown-up Angélica's daughter (also called Angélica) in the present; Fernando Delgado plays both Angélica's father and later her husband (although this is one of the points where the tricks that memory can play on you are pointed out - the grown-up Angélica shows Luis a photo of her father to prove that there is no resemblance to her husband). This 'doubling' obviously aids the transition back and forth in Luis's memory onscreen, which occasionally becomes confusing as Luis loses himself in the past and the lines between the two eras become indistinct. López Vázquez is the only actor to play the same character in both eras - Luis's childhood self is distinguished by voice, body language, and facial expression: for example, his habit of tucking his chin down so that he is looking up (his eyes wide) serves not only to indicate the shy and withdrawn nature of the boy, but also to make the actor seem physically smaller. One particular sequence that I liked comes almost halfway into the film, at the point when Luis has carried out his mother's wishes and is driving back to Barcelona. He stops at the same roadside and the same memory that we saw at the start of the film plays out again. But this time, instead of being immersed in the memory, reliving it, he observes it from the other side of the road; in revisiting the sites of childhood trauma, he has acquired some of the distance required to review the past objectively. He turns his car around and heads back to Segovia to confront the past head on.

D'Lugo, M. (1991) - The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Quintana, À. (2008) - 'A Poetics of Splitting: Memory and Identity in La prima Angélica (Carlos Saura, 1974)', in Burning Darkness: A Half Century of Spanish Cinema, edited by J.R. Resina, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp.83-96.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

London Spanish Film Festival: 3rd Spring Weekend

The London Spanish Film Festival is holding their 3rd Spring Weekend event (smaller than the festival proper in Sept/Oct) between 25th and 28th April. You can see the full programme here.
Highlights include the two films that tied for first place in my 'Top 5 of 2012' list - De tu ventana a la mía (Paula Ortíz, 2012) and No habrá paz para los malvados (Enrique Urbizu, 2011) - as well as Blancanieves (Pablo Berger, 2012) and a preview of Los amantes pasajeros (Pedro Almodóvar, 2013). They are also continuing the festival strand of looking at the careers and practices of specific actors, this time focussing on acting siblings María Botto and Juan Diego Botto - I said in relation to the last festival that this sidebar looked like a really interesting event and this promises to be the same. A number of their films will be shown and the two of them will be interviewed onstage before a screening of Los abajos firmantes (Joaquín Oristrell, 2004), a very funny film about acting, theatre, and political protest, in which they both star.

*The image above is taken from the email sent out by the festival.


Like last year, I've managed to obtain extra hours at work to last me through to the end of the summer - posting may become more irregular for the next few months. I'm going to prioritise the shorter Carlos Saura Challenge posts, as if I get too behind with them I'll find it difficult to complete the challenge, but hopefully I'll be able to mix it up with other films as well.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Carlos Saura Challenge, Part 5: Ana y los lobos / Ana and the Wolves (1972)

Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Rafael Azcona and Carlos Saura, based on an idea by Carlos Saura and Elías Querejeta
Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, Fernando Fernán Gómez, José María Prada, José Vivó, Rafaela Aparicio, Charo Soriano, Marisa Porcel, Anny Quintas, María José Puerta, Nuria Lage, Sara Gil.
Synopsis: An English nanny, Ana (Chaplin), arrives at a house in the Spanish countryside to look after the children of one of three brothers (Fernán Gómez, Prada, Vivó) living with their mother (Aparicio). All three brothers become captivated by Ana, who finds herself living in an increasingly disturbing and dangerous situation.

Warning: contains spoilers, including the ending.

    From the first appearance of the men in the film -José (Prada) entering the newly-arrived Ana's bedroom and insisting on seeing her passport and inspecting the contents of her suitcase- there is the unsettling sense that the foreigner has wandered into something beyond her ken (her passport may show her to be much-travelled but she is still naive). Soon enough she has José showing off his collection of military uniforms to her and commanding dominance of the household, Fernando (Fernán Gómez) explaining his pursuit of a union with God (or at least levitation) in the whitewashed cave at the bottom of the garden, and Juan (Vivó), the children's father, making amorous advances and sending her erotic letters with international postmarks (by using stamps from the family's stamp collection). The men essentially represent three taboos of Spanish culture at the time - the military, religion, sex - but in a slightly more neutered form than they might have taken (José isn't in the military, he just collects uniforms, and Fernando isn't a priest). They're almost living out a kind of stunted adolescence - or rather, in still living with their mother, they have managed to avoid maturing into adults; there's something quite childlike about their enthusiasm for their respective 'interests'.
    But the doll is really the first clue that what is going on is not just harmless fantasy. The three children (Puerta, Lage, Gil) dig up a doll that has had its hair cut off before being wrapped in a shroud, tied with string and buried in the garden. Ana intuits that there is something disturbing at play (the children say that 'the wolves' have done it) and insists that Juan tells her who has 'tortured' the doll but seemingly takes no further action (or precaution) on being told that it was Fernando. It's interesting that Higginbotham refers to the film as a 'grim parable' (1988: 86) because there's something fairytale-like about it and it also carries with it the sensation that certain sequences could be being dreamt by one of the characters - the parallels between Fernando's 'vision' of the various members of the household early in the film and the set of events leading up to Ana's eviction from the house and the brutal finale (several characters including, most pertinently, Ana, are wearing the same clothes in both sequences) suggests that not everything we see actually happens. Saura has said that he saw the final sequence as imaginary ([1979] 2003: 53) (Ana is expelled from the house when Mama (Aparicio) realises how much discord she has sowed, and as she leaves the grounds she is pounced upon by the three brothers - Juan rapes her, Fernando cuts off her hair, and José handcuffs her before shooting her in the head - the film ends on a close-up of her agonised face), which explains how the family (and Ana) can be revisited in Mamá cumple 100 años / Mama Turns 100 (1979).
   Overall the film made me feel uneasy, mainly because of the extent to which Ana plays games with the brothers, teases them, and plays the coquette, seemingly unaware that she is seriously out of her depth - there is a creeping sense, heightened after the doll is found, that something terrible will occur (which it does -whether imaginary or not).

Castro, A. ([1979] 2003) -'Interview with Carlos Saura', Dirigido por, 69, pp.44-50, reprinted in Carlos Saura: Interviews, edited by Linda M. Willem, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp.52-64.
Higginbotham, V. (1988) - Spanish Film Under Franco, Austin: University of Texas Press.