Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tangled Ideas

    You develop a funny attachment to films that feature in your thesis. Not all of them (there are a few that you'd have to pay me to watch again), but I think certainly the ones that find themselves woven into the central fabric of your central argument; you are infinitely aware of their defects and flaws (you've pored over their minutiae for months, taking them apart and holding them up to the light), but you bristle slightly if someone else points them out. But once you've submitted, the idea of revisiting one of those films (for enjoyment!) doesn't appeal; it's difficult to view those films from any other perspective than the one through which you wrote about them in such detail. But this is where the funny attachment comes in for me because there are some that I nonetheless regard with what can only be described as affection, of which Los lunes al sol is one. There is something about the film that moves me no matter how many times I watch it, or how I've dissected it in the past: it is a film about solidarity, loyalty, about people being stronger together, and about how friendship can keep you afloat in the worst of times. Much of this centres on Bardem's character, Santa, the pillar of a group of friends laid low by unemployment. If I were told that I could only watch one Bardem performance again, this is the one I would choose; in part because it is a perfect encapsulation of what 'Javier Bardem' and his star image mean within Spanish cinema, but also because I personally think that he has yet to better this performance.
     But I thought that I was 'done' with the film in terms of writing about it. Then in September 2011 I watched Biutiful and throughout the film Los lunes al sol kept tugging at my consciousness. A week or so later I watched León de Aranoa's film for the first time in at least two years. But you can see from this post that I couldn't quite articulate what it was that kept snagging in my brain, other than it centred on Bardem's performance (try not to laugh at my hugely optimistic assertion that I would write about the two films together within the next month - although, that said, I have found what I initially started writing in 2011; more than 3000 words, all of them about Los lunes al sol) and the feeling that Biutiful was a turning-inside-out of his earlier performance. And then life got in the way. I wrote a few of New Year's resolutions at the start of 2013 and one of them was 'Write the Bardem Los lunes/Biutiful article'. My attempts to restart my research focussed on my conference paper in the first half of the year, but it finally seems like time to actually get on with the bloody thing. So I rewatched Los lunes al sol this past weekend (I'd actually forgotten that I'd watched it in 2011 - I thought it was four years since I'd seen it) with fresh eyes and a sense of relief that this 'old friend' had not changed beyond recognition. I'll now have to rewatch Biutiful as well, but one step at a time.
    Performance is still at the centre of what I want to pick apart between the two films but in combination with the issue of genre and the associations that Bardem brings with him. I'm not sure whether I've got two ideas fighting each other, or just one that I've not properly untangled yet. 
    My intention is to look at the associations that Bardem's presence generates (at least in Spain) particularly in relation to cine social, before moving on to his performances in the two films, alongside criticism of the films that specifically relates to genre and their treatment of social issues. I think that Los lunes al sol addresses its themes, and wears its social conscience, with greater skill than Biutiful, but also better utilises Bardem and certain elements of his star image. It's not that there are obvious similarities between the films (they are quite different in terms of both visual style and their treatment of their respective subjects) but rather that Bardem's character and performance in the latter strongly reminded me of the earlier film because of the way that the performance seems (to me) to be a turning-inside-out of the earlier one. I don't think that Biutiful is cine social by any straightforward definition (but is genre ever clear cut? Los lunes al sol could be viewed as containing elements of melodrama as well) - but what is interesting is how it has been shoehorned into that genre by certain critics (particularly in Spain), and then judged as having failed to meet 'the standard' (again, particularly in Spain - both films have received their share of scathing critical commentary*). I think that this shoehorning is partly because of the associations that Javier Bardem brings with him for a range of reasons, but namely his style of acting (which is where the performance/genre overlap comes in).
    What I may do initially is use the blog to write about his performance in each film, so as to ground myself in them and to clarify what I'm grasping for by actually having to put what I think he does through his performances into written words. And then I'll have to do battle with genre and sort out my argument. But I think that if this nugget of an idea has stuck with me for two years while I've flailed around doing other things, then I should probably follow it. I'm putting all of this up here so as to hold myself to it because I find it far too easy to carry around ideas in my notebook without attempting to develop them - so feel free to give me a nudge if nothing appears on here in the next month!

*One of my favourite 'takedowns' of Los lunes al sol comes from Fecé and Pujol, who describe the film as ‘bienintencionada […] aunque conviertan el paro y la lucha de clases en una hipotética canción de Eurovisión cantada en esperanto: Si todos los parados del mundo caminasen cogidos de la mano’ ['well-intentioned [...] although they convert unemployment and the class war into a hypothetical Eurovision song sung in esperanto: if all the unemployed of the world could walk along hand in hand'] (2003: 161-162) - which is cutting but nonetheless makes me chuckle every time I read it. Biutiful's scathing commentary is more wince-inducing than funny (I think I tweeted some of my favourites when I watched it).