Monday, 27 May 2013

Another update

I'm expecting the blog to be mainly silent for the next month or so.
Despite the increase in my working hours, I had been planning to concentrate on the Carlos Saura Challenge posts but I'm due to present a paper (on Spanish stardom) at a conference in early June, so I've had to focus on that instead as I've had quite a lot going on.
Once that is out of the way, I've then got to focus on my employment situation. Since my last update I've managed to obtain a permanent full-time job (I've been in part-time work in the time this blog has been running - but in the summer months I usually manage to get extra work), but this week discovered that my organisation is about to undergo a 'radical' restructure - so, along with everyone else, I'm going to have to go back through the application and interview process. Ho hum.
So the Carlos Saura Challenge is temporarily paused (I'll have to extend the 'year-long' aspect of the challenge) but I'd hope to be up and running again in July, if not beforehand. Hey, it gives all the UK-dwellers time to catch up with the next film, which is released here this week.
In the meantime, I'll put my conference abstract up on here next week and the paper itself will appear on the blog after I've delivered it at the conference.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Los amantes pasajeros / I'm So Excited! (Pedro Almodóvar, 2013)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Javier Cámara (Joserra), Carlos Areces (Fajas), Raúl Arévalo (Ulloa), Antonio de la Torre (Álex Acero), Lola Dueñas (Bruna), Carmen Machi (concierge), Laya Martí (Bride), Cecilia Roth (Norma Boss), Hugo Silva (Benito), Miguel Ángel Silvestre (Groom), Blanca Suárez (Ruth), Guillermo Toledo (Ricardo Galán), José Luis Torrijo (Más), Paz Vega (Alba), José María Yazpik (Infante).
Synopsis: Madrid, the present. A flight to Mexico takes off with a fault with its landing gear and subsequently circles the skies over Spain while the authorities look for an appropriate place for an emergency landing. The crew sedate the economy class passengers but have their work cut out with the people in business class. As the air stewards put on their best performances, the booze flows and pills are popped, secrets tumble out and inhibitions are lost.

These are just initial thoughts - I'm writing this the same day I saw the film.

    I went in with my expectations lowered, in part because I got too hyped about La piel que habito but also because I was aware that the reviews have been mixed (I didn't read any beforehand), and probably enjoyed it all the more for that: this is froth, but enjoyable froth.
    In fact while the surface of the film is frothy entertainment, there is also a mild satire of the mess that Spain is currently in underneath - the disclaimer at the start of the film saying that this is a work of fiction should be taken with a pinch of salt (the names may have been changed but events on the ground have a basis in reality), as Maria Delgado writes: 'The terms "recession" or "economic crisis" are conspicuously absent from the film, but the Guadiana plotline offers pertinent comment on a society where patronage, politics and public administration are inextricably interwoven' (2013: 40). I guess how much of that undercurrent to the film that you pick up on is dependent on how aware you are of Spanish current affairs.
    Delgado also draws parallels with A Midsummer Night's Dream ('magical makeovers are matched by erotic gameplay' (2013: 38)) and the Valencia cocktail (dosed with mescaline) stands in for the love potion. I like that reading because I think the film can function as a dreamy in-between world - after the Banderas/Cruz prologue the camera closes in on the engine turbine rotating, like milk in black coffee, a kind of hypnotic effect that perhaps signals that what follows is not 'real'. Certainly, up in the clouds, circling with no apparent destination, the passengers are suspended from reality and acting out a farce (signalled by the theatrical red curtains that divide the space) - a diversion for the crew as much as anything else (the 'public' telephone delivering instalments of a soap opera, or glimpses of other possible films).
    I've seen remarks comparing the film to Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios ('a male version') but actually the style of comedy lacks the sophistication of that film and instead harks back to the crude and scatological humour of Almodóvar's very early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom and Laberinto de pasiones. That kind of humour is not to everyone's taste (those latter two films are not among my favourites) but I think that a lot depends on the characters (and actors) delivering the lines - the air stewards (played by Cámara, Areces, and Arévalo) are written and performed with affection and I think they're probably destined to be regarded as 'classic' Almodóvar characters in much the same way that Agrado (Antonia San Juan) became the standout of Todo sobre mi madre. The dance sequence to The Pointer Sisters' 'I'm So Excited', a longer sequence than is in the trailer, made me cry with laughter -I don't know that any further recommendation is necessary. If I come back to the film again later, I think I'll look a bit more at the actors / performances involved and the side stories -for example, the Ricardo Galán strand in which an actor drives one of his exes mad and another leaves him in order to maintain her sanity has obvious links to Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, but Blanca Suárez's Ruth (in her floral sundress) also cuts a Kika-ish dash through proceedings (also in relation to this plotline: can I ask someone, but Almodóvar in particular, to give Paz Vega another decent lead role in something - she only has a few minutes here but you forget all else while she is onscreen).
    In short, if you go expecting an Almodóvarian dramedy, you will probably be 'disappointed', but if you want a giggle, then the current band of chicos Almodóvar will entertain you.

Delgado, M. (2013) - 'Wings of Desire', Sight & Sound, May, pp.36-38, 40.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Random Viewing

El artista y la modelo / The Artist and the Model (Fernando Trueba, 2012), Una pistola en cada mano / A Gun in Each Hand (Cesc Gay, 2012)

   My viewing schedule is somewhat haphazard at the moment, so I decided to take a break from Carlos Saura and prioritise some more recent films that I really want to see - both of these appeared in my post about films from last year that I wanted to catch up with.
   A bit of a mixed bag, really. Trueba's beautiful black and white film, set in occupied France just before the end of the Second World War, is a meditation on art, beauty, and searching for your artistic muse - I can admire it and appreciate the quality of the production, but overall it didn't do much for me. One to be revisited at a later date, perhaps.
   Cesc Gay's Ficción / Fiction (2006) is one of my favourite films from recent years, so I've been looking forward to seeing Una pistola en cada mano, especially with what must be one of the best ensemble cast line-ups around. Essentially a series of separate encounters between friends, acquaintances and loved ones, the film explores (in a comedic light) modern man as he reaches his 40s and the changes in relationships and life circumstances that ensue. The cast are all on top form but my favourite sections were probably the conversations between the duos of Eduard Fernández / Leonardo Sbaraglia and Ricardo Darín / Luis Tosar. Recommended.