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)