Monday, 29 December 2014

IV Festival Márgenes - free to view online (13th - 31st December)

    Until the last day of 2014, the online platform Márgenes is making the twelve films that played in competition at its 4th Festival (and one that played outside of the official line-up) available to view for free. The online side of the festival started on the 13th December, but I didn't get a chance to take a look until I finished work for Christmas - I've only managed to watch a handful of the films so far, but I thought I should point it out on here before it ends.
    The festival started as an exclusively online event but now organises screenings in Madrid, Córdoba, Barcelona, Montevideo, México DF, Monterrey and Bogotá, before putting the films online. The point of the festival is to highlight those films that have not had a commercial release or that otherwise fall outside of the normal distribution circuit. To be eligible, they need to be more than 40 minutes in duration and originate from Spain, Latin America, or Portugal (the countries included are: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela) - you can see the full list of criteria here. Many of the films in the 2014 edition have played at other festivals and won multiple prizes - but the list of winners for the IV Festival Márgenes have also now been announced.
    The official selection of films streaming for free encompass documentary and narrative fiction (links take you to the film - I've indicated which ones have English subtitles):

    I've watched four so far - El gran vuelo, All the Things That Are Not There, Las altas presiones (which won the Nuevas olas / New Waves section at the Seville European Film Festival last month), and África 815 - but will hopefully manage to watch a couple more before they disappear (having watched Pablo Larraín's No last year, I'd like to see Propaganda, which is about the 2013 Chilean elections). A common thread across the ones I've seen is 'absence' or the past being retraced through fragments - although in Las altas presiones this is manifested in how the protagonist's (Andrés Gertrúdix) return home heightens his sense of having lost who he really is - and judging by the synopses of the other films that theme unites many of them. Both El gran vuelo and África 815 (my favourite of the four) use a combination of photographs with diaries / memoirs and letters to explore (real) lives hidden from view on the surface. 

El gran vuelo

    El gran vuelo is the story of Clara Pueyo Jornet, and examines her clandestine existence from the Civil War years up to the point when - sentenced to death (she was an active militant for the Communist Party) - she escaped from Les Corts prison in Barcelona in the early 1940s by walking out of the front door (the great flight of the title) and was never seen again. Jornet was constrained by the times she lived in. There was no accepted space for political women in that era - the danger of Jornet's situation is indicated in her coded private correspondence with friends, and she seems to have lived in perpetual flight for years - and even once underground she rejected the rigidity the Communist Party; she had been due to leave the safehouse where she lived with three other women (to set out on her own), the day after the house was raided by the police (the film suggests that this timing may not have been entirely coincidental). She was the only one of the four sentenced to death, her letters proving incendiary in the eyes of the authorities. Through Jornet's own words (copies of her letters are seen on screen and read as a voiceover) and a series of photographs (including several group shots taken inside the prison), Carolina Astudillo manages to fleetingly reconstruct a woman who was forced into absence, and seemingly long forgotten.

África 815

    Flight also occurs in África 815 - Pilar Monsell's father, Manuel, made a bid for freedom via enlistment in 1964, leaving Madrid and heading to the exotic Saharan Spanish colony to carry out his military service. Reading aloud from her father's diaries (which he has since reconfigured as a three-volume memoir) and looking at his photo archive, Monsell compassionately explores her father's hidden life. Black and white stills change to moving colour images in conjunction with the collapse of Manuel's attempts at self denial - he got married in order to have a family - and his return to Morocco in the 1980s in a hopeful (but ultimately unsuccessful) quest to find his true Prince Charming. His sadness and loneliness (as recorded in his diary) as he realises that one man after another merely sees him as an escape route to Europe is palpable even all these years later and when read at one remove by his daughter. Perhaps someone less close to the subject would have asked more probing questions (this is straightforwardly her father's story - her mother is briefly seen in holiday film footage but not mentioned), but this melancholy film was made with love and acceptance - and it also feels like the director was genuinely interested in finding out more about her father. [The film's official website]

    The sadly-defunct Blogs&Docs has been resurrected for a special issue on the films included in the festival (and their archive is well worth exploring too).

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

My Favourite Spanish Films of 2014, Part Two: New

The first part of my 2014 round-up - 'Old, but new to me' - can be found here.

With my end of year lists on here I count the current year and the previous as 'new' (so in this instance - 2013 and 2014) because I generally see Spanish films on DVD (the year following their initial release in Spain). Unusually this year I'm able to include several films that I've seen in a cinema because I started attending film festivals - two of them (Viva in Manchester and the new Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival) specialise in Spanish cinema, but three others (Bradford, Edinburgh, and Leeds) also included Spanish films in their programme. I've not seen any Spanish films on general release in the UK in 2014. Obviously in terms of films released in Spain in 2014, I've only seen a few - I'm particularly looking forward to catching up with Magical Girl (dir. Carlos Vermut), La Isla Mínima / Marshland (dir. Alberto Rodríguez), Carmina y amén (dir. Paco León), Hermosa juventud / Beautiful Youth (dir. Jaime Rosales), Negociador / Negotiator (dir. Borja Cobeaga), and No todo es vigilia / Not All Is Vigil (dir. Hermes Paralluelo) in 2015.

1. Costa da Morte / Coast of Death (Lois Patiño, 2013)
I saw Patiño's feature debut at the Bradford International Film Festival in April (I reviewed it here - it's the only film I've given 5 stars to this year - and also wrote about it over at Mediático in the context of the other Spanish films shown in Bradford) and it is my overall favourite film of the year (with or without the 'Spanish' qualifier*). Part of its impact on me was definitely due to the context in which I saw it - on the Media Museum's IMAX screen (although not in IMAX format), sat on my own and approximately level with the centre of the image. It felt a bit like I was suspended over this immense landscape (and seascape). It is one of the most absorbing and visually overwhelming films I have seen in a cinema, and eight months later some of the images - a tree falling through the fog, the smoke from an extinguished fire blooming across the screen - are still flittering through my mind. I actually like it so much that I'm not sure I would watch it again unless I could see it on the big screen - so I may have to be content with having seen it once (not least because it isn't currently available). Bonus: I recently found this interview with Patiño about the film at Cinema Scope.

2. El Futuro / The Future (Luis López Carrasco, 2013)
Another film seen at the Bradford Film Festival (and included in the Mediático essay). A house party in the aftermath of the 1982 Socialist victory, before the dream went sour, with the generation who mistook the 1982 election for an end in and of itself rather than the start of something. The film is a mood piece rather than a narrative, and utilises the discombobulating effect of unsynchronised sound (so what you see is not what you're listening to) to put the viewer in amongst the hustle and bustle of the party. It also has one of the most earworm-tastic soundtracks of the year - I still had this one reverberating through my head more than a week later (the 1st thing I wrote down when I came out of the cinema was "Deserted ruins and beautiful swimming pools/ Dried out women with vampiric voices") - with the lyrics (which unusually are subtitled) lingering in the mind for far longer than the disjointed conversations we eavesdrop on. The director's thoughts on his choice of soundtrack (and videos of the songs themselves) can be found here. Another one that hasn't been released in home viewing form.

3. Todos están muertos / They're All Dead (Beatriz Sanchís, 2014)
One half of 1980s sibling pop duo Groenlandia [Greenland], Lupe (Elena Anaya) nows lives as a recluse in suburban Madrid and is reliant on her mother Paquita (Angélica Aragón) to bring up the teenage son (Pancho - played by Cristian Bernal) who quietly despises her. The superstitious Paquita finally resorts to desperate measures to try to restore her daughter to something of her former self - she takes the opportunity of the Mexican Day of the Dead to try to invoke the absent member of their family, seemingly to no avail. But unbeknownst to everyone else, Lupe can now see her missing other half - her brother Diego (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) who died fifteen years earlier. That sounds like the set up for a comedy (and the film does have its moments of humour with the ghostly situation), but it is a drama centring on an astounding performance by Elena Anaya. Lupe is a woman who seems to have no form of psychological protection, as if her nerve endings are exposed and every bit of social interaction is physically painful - it's a role that could become a catalogue of tics, but (without wishing to sound too wankerish) Anaya's performance is about being rather than doing: Lupe's fragility is made tangible with great subtlety, and Anaya walks the high wire without a safety net and in a state of grace. The Spanish DVD has optional English subs.

4. La distancia / The Distance (Sergio Caballero, 2014)
Telepathic Russian dwarves + a haiku reciting bucket (in love with a nearby chimney) = enjoyably bonkers. A team of three Russian dwarves receive mysterious instructions requesting their presence at an old Soviet power plant in Siberia where a performance artist (mathematics and dead rabbits seem to be the tools of his trade) is imprisoned in the plant warehouse according to the wishes of the now-dead power magnate who 'bought' him. The mcguffin is that the artist wants them to steal 'La distancia' - an unspecified object - from the abandoned power plant next door. What follows is the planning of the heist over the course of a week, complete with telekinesis, teleportation, more dead rabbits, and some kinky goings-on. This is laced with the same daft and absurd humour as Caballero's Finisterrae - although this film feels more polished, with a sophisticatedly layered soundscape and starkly beautiful widescreen visuals - and has an ending so WTF-abrupt that it made me laugh out loud. The Spanish DVD/Blu Dual Pack (the only format it's available in - the dual packs are something of an unfortunate trend in the Spanish market at the moment) has optional English subs (which you will no doubt need, given that the film is in Russian).

5. 10,000 Km (Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2014)
A simple two-hander with the complication that the two leads are not in the same geographical space after the opening sequence - for most of the running time, each actor (Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer) is effectively delivering a series of dramatic monologues (they are talking to a computer screen but it is often delivered straight to camera, as if talking to the viewer), and yet a palpable connection is made and maintained between the couple. A moving - and in at least one scene, excruciatingly embarrassing (deliberately) - rendering of a long distance relationship, with the possibility that sometimes you are never further apart than when you're in the same room with someone. I reviewed it here. The Spanish DVD has optional English subs.

6. Edificio España / The Building (Víctor Moreno, 2013)
By chance Víctor Moreno captured not just the deconstruction of an iconic Madrid landmark (and Francoist symbol), but also the moments leading up to the housing / property bubble bursting - effectively the opening of an economic sinkhole that Spain has yet to climb back out of. But Edificio España (an interesting space quite apart from its iconicity) and its suspended renovation are more than a metaphor for the current times, and the director finds a human side (the collateral damage in the banks' games) both in the meeting with its last resident and the multitude of nationalities doing the back-breaking labour. I wrote quite a long post about it in October. Available on VOD in Spain (at Filmin) but not currently available in other formats. UPDATE (13/03/15): it is now available on DVD (with optional English subs) in Spain. 

7. Los ilusos / The Wishful Thinkers (Jonás Trueba, 2013)
Seen at the inaugural Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival in early October (trailer here), my initial reaction to Jonás Trueba's second film was that it was a bit too clever for its own good. The audience I saw it with resisted it for at least the first twenty minutes (to the extent that I sat there wondering whether it might have been preferable to watch it at home undistracted by other people fidgeting - it was (and I discovered last night, still is) available on Curzon on Demand) - the visible filmmaking (e.g. clapperboards, visible crew, actors having to repeat dialogue for sound recording clarity) and occasionally unsynchronised sound proving hard going for some, but it picks up momentum to carry you along, and it has grown on me as I've thought about it in the time since. If I have time, I intend to rewatch it over Christmas. This black and white (filmed on 16mm), breezily romantic film about twenty-somethings in Madrid (the central character is screenwriter Leon (Francesco Carril), and we also meet his actor flatmate Bruno (Vito Sanz), friend Lilian (Isabelle Stoffel), and romantic interest Sofia (Aura Garrido)) pursing cinematic dreams and living in the in-between spaces of the city, also has several sequences that made me laugh out loud - a shaggy dog-like tale (possibly half imagined) about Bruno pursuing the director Javier Rebollo that becomes increasingly hysteria-inducing through repetition, and Leon interrupting a date at the cinema in order to question a projectionist about the quality of the print ("It's Blu-Ray" he's told to his considerable consternation) being cases in point. It is radically different to Trueba's first film (Todos las canciones hablan de mí / All the Songs Are About Me (2010) - which I really liked), so I'm interested to see where he goes with his third - Los exiliados románticos / The Romantic Exiles (which again stars Sanz, Carril, and Stoffel, and seems to be in post-production).

8. La plaga / The Plague Year (Neus Ballús, 2013)
Nominated in the Best New Director category at this year's Goya Awards (she lost to Fernando Franco (La herida / Wounded)), Neus Ballús made her feature debut with a film that falls between narrative fiction and documentary - she had spent a number of years talking to inhabitants in the area depicted, getting to know them and their stories, and the people onscreen are playing a version of themselves (they are all non-professionals). The visuals are Instagram-like (which I found challenging for the first ten minutes or so - although the faded look suits the parched heat of the location) but there is something more interesting going on in the hardscrabble existences of those trying to live and work in this in-between space (on the outskirts of Barcelona). These are people pushed to the edges of their endurance in order to survive in the current economic climate, and who can fall through the cracks without a trace (immigrants - some of whom are unable to find the permanent work required to obtain residency - the elderly, the struggling small rural businesses, and the just generally struggling). The Spanish DVD has optional English subs.

9. En tierra extraña / In a Foreign Land (Icíar Bollaín, 2014)
I wrote about it here. I find certain aspects of Bollaín's documentary - namely the glove thing - slightly twee but she gives a voice to people currently without one in their own country (because of their absence due to the economic situation), and it's an admirably angry film (and someone needs to be). I saw it at the Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival in an audience that was at least 80% Spanish - the majority of whom presumably in similar circumstances to those interviewed onscreen - which made it a participatory event: boos, hisses and catcalls greeted news footage of wilfully disingenuous Spanish politicians, gasps were audible as certain stories were relayed, and laughter was shared over the collective dismay at the Scottish weather. As I said in my previous post, given the poisonous invective on immigration that is currently being regurgitated with little challenge in the UK, Bollaín's film should be shown far and wide. Not currently available in the UK although it is on various VOD platforms in Spain (including Filmin) and has received several further cinema screenings in Scotland.  

10. Stella cadente / Falling Star (Lluís Miñarro, 2014)
Another film seen in Edinburgh, but this one was at the Edinburgh Film Festival back in June. I wasn't bowled over by it at the time - I felt it was just too much of everything - but would like to see it again, not least because I was unwell on the day I saw it. It is a visually ravishing and enjoyably theatrical film with a spritely sense of humour and a wonderful central performance by Àlex Brendemühl. It has made my top 10 - despite receiving a lower star rating than some of the other films I've reviewed this year (included in the 'honourable mention' section) - because "Set these rabbits free!" is my favourite subtitle of the year. I reviewed it here. The Spanish DVD has optional English subs.

Honourable mentions (alphabetical) [links take you to what I've written about them]:
Arraianos (Eloy Enciso, 2013), Cenizas (Carlos Balbuena, 2013), Con la pata quebrada / Barefoot and in the Kitchen (Diego Galán, 2013), Ocho apellidos vascos / Spanish Affair (Emilio Martínez Lazáro, 2014), Todas las mujeres / All the Women (Mariano Barroso, 2013), Tots volem el millor per a ella / We All Want What's Best For Her (Mar Coll, 2013) Un ramo de cactus / A Bouquet of Cactus (Pablo Llorca, 2013).

Favourite performances:
Elena Anaya (Todos están muertos)
Àlex Brendemühl (Stella cadente
Alberto San Juan (En tierra extraña)
Nora Navas (Tots volem el millor per a ella
Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer (10,000 Km
Eduard Fernández (Todas las mujeres)

*For the record (and to give a bit of context), my overall 11 favourite films seen in a cinema this year: 
1. Costa da Morte (dir. Lois Patiño) 
2. Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) 
3. Ida (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
4. Winter Sleep (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
5. Journey to the West (dir. Tsai Ming-liang)
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
7. El Futuro (dir. Luis López Carrasco)
8. Starred Up (dir. David Mackenzie)
9. Mr Turner (dir. Mike Leigh)
= Refugiado (dir. Diego Lerman)
= Stray Dogs (dir. Tsai Ming-liang)

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Favourite Spanish Films of 2014, Part One: Old, but new to me

I've watched a wider range of older Spanish films this year, so for that reason I'm dividing my 'favourites of 2014' choices into 'old' (anything before 2013) and 'new' (2013/2014 - which will appear later this week as Part Two). I've only listed films that I hadn't seen before this year, otherwise the likes of Muerte de un ciclista, El verdugo, and El día de la bestia would be included.

1. Poetes catalans / Catalan Poets (Pere Portabella, 1970)
I dutifully worked my way through Intermedio's boxset of Pere Portabella's complete works fully intending to write about the set as a whole but - as is so often the case - it simply took too long for me to finish the set. I should have started writing about them as I went along. With the exception of his two political documentaries - El sopar / The Dinner (1974) and the three-hour epic that is Informe general sobre algunas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública (1976) - I preferred Portabella's short films over his feature-length ones. 
Poetes catalans is my favourite from the set overall, a thirty minute underground film of an illegal gathering - the First Popular Festival of Catalan Poetry (the speaking of Catalan in public was banned during the Franco dictatorship) in Barcelona 25th May 1970, in solidarity with political prisoners. Shooting in black and white Portabella frames the event almost like a boxing match, the raised stage resembling a boxing ring and the poets (Agustí Bartra, Joan Oliver (Pere IV), Salvador Espriu, Joan Brossa, Francesc Vallverdú and Gabriel Ferrater) not pulling any punches in their attacks on the State and its forces. But it's the reaction of the crowd that makes it so electrifying - the cry of 'Libertad! Libertad!' [Liberty! Liberty!] (and later 'Amnestia!' [Amnesty!]) that sporadically breaks out in response to the poetry made my hair stand on end. Sadly it doesn't seem to be online anywhere and the films aren't for sale individually (although the boxset is fully subtitled).

2. Rocío (Fernando Ruiz Vergara, 1980)
a.k.a. The film I lost August to - I wrote a long essay (here) about the injustices that befell the documentary and its director after its release, but also tried to write about it as a cinematic text because although the censorship tends to be the main topic of discussion in relation to Rocío, it is a visually distinctive - and hauntingly beautiful - piece of filmmaking. I still can't really explain the strange spell the film cast over me. I may return to it at some point because I initially wanted to look at how the power relations / social hierarchies within the region it depicts are reflected in the editing, but that was too large a topic for the essay I had started writing (and I felt it would require more research than I had time for at that point). The censored version is available with English subtitles on YouTube (the excised sections are indicated by a black screen with a timer showing the duration), and the uncensored version is included with this book (as is a documentary about the legal battle) but without subtitles.

3. Mapa (Elías León Siminiani, 2012)
Winner of the European Documentary Award at the Seville Film Festival in 2012, León Siminiani's film is part travelogue, part diary, part confessional, and part embittered love letter. In the aftermath of the break-up of a long term relationship - swiftly followed by the loss of his job as a director of children's TV series - the director decided to return to his first love (cinema) and try to make a film as a way of fighting incipient depression. He decides to head to India in search of his film...but realises that instead of searching, he's actually fleeing something else. He returns to Madrid, but things don't get any easier there as he tries to work out what he is really looking for (and also finish the film). I often find diary films irritating but León Siminiani's dry humour and a good measure of self-awareness (his voiceover - as is explained within the film itself - was recorded months later, allowing him the benefit of hindsight as he assembled the film and caught sight of his fluctuating state of mind) mean that he avoids self-indulgence - what instead emerges is a sincere and introspective quest and an eventual realisation that you have to tell your own story (rather than somebody else's).

4. Tren de sombras / Train of Shadows (Jose Luis Guerin, 1997)
A magic trick, a sleight of hand made all the more potent due to my misreading an untranslated cue card (although the fact that it worked even with this misunderstanding is a testament to the quality of Guerin's game), and a playful dissection of film language and form. I wrote about it here.

5. Montaña en sombra / Mountain in Shadow (Lois Patiño, 2012)
This screened directly before Costa da Morte (which - it will come as no surprise - features in the  second instalment of this list) at the Bradford Film Festival but it merits its own entry. It starts out almost like an ink painting in motion, with the abstract shadows and contours eventually revealed as a snow-covered mountain complete with ant-like skiers making their way up and down. Fourteen minutes of spectral and ephemeral beauty.

6. Aita (José María de Orbe, 2010)
I'm jealous of anyone who got to see this in a cinema because I think its magic must reach full potential in the cavernous dark. An old uninhabited house reveals its layers and unexpectedly flickers into life at night with 'memories' of the region and its former owners playing out across its walls in the form of old films. Mystery and visual poetry in films can often feel like affectation - this feels organic and I found it genuinely enchanting. I wrote about it here.

7. Arrebato / Rapture (Iván Zulueta, 1980)
I wrote about the film last month as my contribution to the Late Film blogathon. Cinema as bewitchment combines with the desire to lose oneself in Zulueta's tale of addiction and vampiric cameras. A strangely mesmerising and disturbing film.

8. Plácido (Luis García Berlanga, 1961)
Reviewed here. I've seen relatively few of Berlanga's films because not very many of them are available with subtitles and I struggle with the audio on older films. In this case, I had the luxury of seeing it subtitled and on the big screen at the Leeds Film Festival as part of the Berlanga and Bardem retrospective (I saw it in a double bill with Muerte de un ciclista). I overheard a couple sitting behind me saying that they found Plácido too loud ("too shouty") but the 'cacophonous rabble' aspect of Berlanga's ensembles is one of my favourite things about his films (characters frequently talk over the top of each other in increasingly anarchic scenes as more and more of them join in the inevitable disagreements). This also deeply and darkly funny - sharply skewering the false charity of the well-to-do in the face of genuine need.

9. Petit Indi (Marc Recha, 2009)
Reviewed here. I've found watching some of Recha's other films as akin to watching paint dry, so this one took me by surprise from the slinky soundtrack of its opening titles onwards. It has one of the most genuinely upsetting sequences (near the end of the film) I've seen this year and is all the more powerful for feeling truthful - for being true to the social circumstances in which its young protagonist (an excellent performance by Marc Soto) finds himself rather than offering the false comfort of a happy ending.

10. Finisterrae (Sergio Caballero, 2010)
I like the DIY aesthetic (at odds with Eduard Grau's painterly cinematography) of Caballero's bizarre film, which involves Russian-speaking ghosts who are clearly 'made' out of white sheets, a trusty horse that occasionally becomes a somewhat ropey animatronic model, and trees with pink ears that look like they've escaped from a Mr Potatohead. Also contains reindeer. Surreal, sometimes baffling, but consistently funny.

Honourable mentions (alphabetical): 
Bertsolari (Asier Altuna, 2011), Los golfos (Carlos Saura, 1960), Libertarias (Vicente Aranda, 1996), Umbracle (Pere Portabella, 1972), Uno de los dos no puede estar equivocado (Pablo Llorca, 2007).

UPDATE: 'My Favourite Spanish Films of 2014, Part Two: New' can be found here.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Late Show: Arrebato / Rapture (Iván Zulueta, 1980)

   Shadowplay's The Late Show: Late Movie Blogathon runs between 1st and 7th December - check out David Cairns's site to find links to other contributions. The aim is to focus on a film from late in a person's career - whether people go out on a high or not - but it doesn't have to be a recent film, or someone who has recently died. Learning from my mistake last year, I decided to find an interesting film as the starting point rather than the person whose 'late film' it is. So, having watched it for the first time earlier this year, my contribution (and my 200th post!) is on the influential underground classic Arrebato / Rapture (Iván Zulueta, 1980) and the stories around it.

Will More and Iván Zulueta on the set of Arrebato

Update, August 2017: This post has been moved to my new blog, apart from the clip below (which I've been unable to transfer) - the post can now be found here.