Friday, 20 December 2013

Twelve Spanish Films from 2013 to See in 2014

I thought that I'd start my consideration of 2013 by looking at the Spanish films from the past year that I haven't managed to see yet. I usually choose ten films, but in the last few months a host of films have piqued my interest. I've deliberately avoided choosing films that I mentioned at the start of the year (with one exception) and also those 2013 films that I've already acquired on DVD but haven't watched yet (which include Ayer no termina nunca (dir. Isabel Coixet), A puerta fría (dir. Xavi Puebla), Alacrán enamorado (dir. Santiago A. Zannou), and Barcelona nit d'estiu (dir. Dani de la Orden)). As usual, titles that appear in square brackets are my translation when there doesn't appear to be an official English language title. I've also indicated if a trailer lacks subtitles (several of them are wordless, so I've only said ‘no subtitles’ if dialogue is included). 

15 años y un día / 15 Years and One Day (dir. Gracia Querejeta)
Drama. Trailer (no subtitles).  
From the synopsis, this doesn't really sound like anything out of the ordinary - a mother (Maribel Verdú) sends her delinquent son (Arón Piquer) to stay with his ex-miltary grandfather (Tito Valverde) in the hope of straightening him out. I'm guessing that it's a 'learning experience' for everyone. It's on this list because it's Spain's entry for the Foreign Language category at the Oscars - so I'm a bit curious about it (also curious to see if this maintains the trend of being the film nominated by the Spanish Academy to represent Spain, but ending up not being the one they award Best Film at the Goyas - this always strikes me as being similar to end of year lists where people nominate films for the impression they give of themselves rather than what they actually like. The 'tasteful' film goes into consideration for the Oscars, but the actual 'favourite' wins the Goya. Sometimes.).

Caníbal / Cannibal (dir. Manuel Martín Cuenca)
Thriller. Trailer.
I've deliberately avoided replicating my 'Forthcoming Spanish Films in 2013' list from last January, but of the films on that list this one has moved to the top of the pile. Manuel Martín Cuenca's La mitad de Óscar / Half of Oscar was in my end of year top 5 in 2011 and it sounds as if he has again created a window into the life of a taciturn man (here played by Antonio de la Torre) whose solitary existence is disturbed by the arrival of a woman who brings with her echoes of the past. La mitad de Óscar seemed to me to partly be a study in loneliness, or how our loneliness becomes apparent to us when it is thrown into relief by the company of others - the trailer for Caníbal suggests something similar, but it is a good exercise in revealing atmosphere rather than plot (and I am deliberately going in as blind as possible). I also hope to catch up with the director's earlier film, La flaqueza del bolchevique / The Weakness of the Bolshevik (2002). 

Con la pata quebrada / Barefoot in the Kitchen (dir. Diego Galán)
A history of how women have been portrayed onscreen in Spanish cinema (utilising clips from more than 150 films from the 1930s onwards), and by extension (one would imagine) revealing something of their changing status within the country itself. Given that it is co-produced by El Deseo, I'm hopeful that it will make an appearance on DVD at some point.

El futuro / [The Future] (dir. Luis López Carrasco)
Drama. Trailer.  
A house party in 1982, in the aftermath of the PSOE's historic general election victory. This hasn't acquired distribution in Spain yet, but has been playing on the festival circuit to some acclaim (see Michael Pattison's guest post about SEFF) and has been championed by several Spanish film publications as being part of the burgeoning 'otro cine español' (as have several other films on this list). I'm hoping that it will either reach a VOD platform or a UK festival (that I actually manage to get to!). 

Gente en sitios / People in Places (dir. Juan Cavestany)
Comedy. Cast: nearly every actor currently working in Spain. Seriously.
Trailer (not subtitled), or a subtitled sequence on the TIFF site.  
A fragmented, but collective, take on the country and its people at this time of economic crisis - generally getting a raw deal at the hands of the ruling classes. If ever a situation cried out for a touch of cinematic esperpento (a jet-black humour characterised by a grotesque distortion of reality with the intent of critiquing society), then it is surely that which Spain is currently undergoing (although how much reality actually needs to be distorted in order to make it grotesque at the moment is open to debate). By all accounts it is a very funny film, but also more political than it may appear at first glance. 

La herida / Wounded (dir. Fernando Franco)
Drama. Trailer.  
The feature debut of editor (Blancanieves (Pablo Berger, 2012) is among his credits) Fernando Franco, La herida follows ambulance worker Ana (Maria Álvarez) who (unbeknownst to her) suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (characterised by extreme swings in emotion and self-destructive behaviour). That's not really a 'plot' and my understanding is that it's more of a character study than a narrative, which means that it will stand or fall on Álvarez's performance - she has won several awards for the film, including 'Best Actress' at San Sebastián - 2013 has been a good year for female performance in cinema generally, so I'd like to catch up with the one that has stood out in Spanish cinema.

Història de la meva mort / Story of My Death (dir. Albert Serra)
Another veteran of the festival circuit (winning the Golden Leopard in Locarno) and another film yet to be released in Spain (it has only played the Filmoteca de Catalunya so far, although rumour has it that it will get a cinema release in early 2014). It is one of only two 'Spanish' films in Sight & Sound's top 30 of 2013 poll (the other being Blancanieves - and in the battle of mythical figures, Dracula and Casanova rank higher than Snow White in this instance) and, while the film has not won favour in all quarters (and Serra's self-aggrandisement can be rather abrasive), it has cropped up often enough for me to think that I should try to see it if the opportunity presents itself. 

Los ilusos / The Wishful Thinkers (dir. Jonás Trueba)
Drama. Trailer.  
Described as an 'intermission film', Los ilusos seems to be about in-between spaces - it follows a filmmaker in between films, passing the time with friends and loved ones, and his (and their) exploration of the spaces of Madrid. I don't know if Trueba has been highlighting issues surrounding distribution and exhibition in Spain, but there is only one copy of the film and he has been accompanying it on its travels - and it is another film that has received attention for its low budget (it was filmed over several months as and when people were available to work on it). This seems markedly different to his previous film, Todas las canciones hablan de mí / All the Songs Are About Me (another former 2011 favourite of mine) and I'm eager to see where Trueba is heading.

Stockholm (dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
Drama. Trailer.  
Two people (Aura Garrido and Javier Pereira - referred to simply as 'Her' and 'Him' in the credits) meet at a party, they spend the night together, but the next morning the game of seduction takes on a darker psychological hue. Both actors have been praised for their performances, with Garrido (who also stars in Los ilusos and is one of my 'faces to watch') picking up several awards. I've avoided reading too much beyond the initial synopsis.

Todas las mujeres / [All the Women] (dir. Mariano Barroso)
Originally a 6 part TV series from 2010 in which veterinarian Nacho (Eduard Fernández) interacted with a different woman who signified something important in his life (his wife, his lover, an ex-girlfriend, his mother, his sister-in-law, and his psychologist) in each episode, the film reworks this into a tight ensemble piece (with all of the same cast - Michelle Jenner, Marta Larralde, Petra Martínez, María Morales, Nathalie Poza, Lucía Quintana) without an ounce of fat on it. Fernández falls into that category of actors I would watch reciting the phone book, but the reviews suggest that the women match him.

Tots volem el millor per a ella / Puzzlement (dir. Mar Coll)
[Note: a literal translation of the title would be We All Want What's Best For Her - the film is also known by its castilian Spanish title, Todos queremos lo mejor para ella]. Geni (Nora Navas) is recovering from a traffic accident, but as she does so she finds that her old life holds little attraction for her despite the encouragement of those around her for her to return to 'normal'. As her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, she can think of only one thing: escape. This is a case of the combination of director and actress attracting my attention - I still haven't seen Mar Coll's directorial debut, Tres dies amb la familia / Three Days with the Family, for which she won Best New Director at the Goyas in 2010, but she seems to be quietly carving out her own space for herself. I saw Nora Navas for the first time in Pa negre and she really impressed me there - this looks like a role she could have some fun with.

Tres bodas de más / Three Many Weddings (dir. Javier Ruiz Caldera)
Low budget festival bait may be something of a trend in this list but that doesn't mean that I haven't had my eye on the more commercial end of the market as well (several of the films I had on my January list, such as Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (dir. Álex de la Iglesia) and La gran familia española (dir. Daniel Sánchez Arévalo), fall into that category - I'm waiting for them to appear on DVD). Tres bodas de más arrived in Spanish cinemas in early December (having premiered at Venice as the closing film), just in time to give the Spanish box office some much-needed oomph. The basic set-up is that Ruth (Inma Cuesta) has the misfortune to be invited to not one but three of her exes' weddings in the space of one month - what ensues has been described as Howard Hawks meets the Farrelly Brothers, which unlikely combination, but I've also seen Cuesta's performance described more than once as a gender reversal of the Cary Grant-as-nerd roles (Ruth is a marine biologist and her nerdishness is signalled via the international shorthand of Very Large Glasses). Cuesta has the comic chops to be very funny and Javier Ruiz Caldera's Promoción fantasma / Ghost Graduation is a sweet-natured film that seemed to actually like its characters rather than simply set out to ritually humiliate them, so fingers crossed for this one (although I will admit that finally seeing the trailer while writing this post has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat). Bonus: Rossy de Palma plays Ruth's mother.

Those are the films that I'm particularly looking to catch up with, and each seems to have occupied a significant place in the landscape of Spanish cinema in 2013, but there are many others in the mix (not to mention the numerous 2012 titles I've yet to get hold of). Several of the films mentioned above are due to arrive at Filmin in the first quarter of 2014, so they should make a return appearance here in the coming months.