Sunday, 15 February 2015

My recommendations for Spanish-language films showing at Glasgow Film Festival

View the full size poster (with screening details) here

The Glasgow Film Festival begins this week (18th February - 1st March). Unfortunately I won't be going, but I thought I'd highlight a few of the Spanish-language films that'll be screening.

Two films I've seen:

10,000 Km (Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2014)
I reviewed this directorial debut last September (for Eye for Film - here) and it ended up in my list of favourites of the year. The film is a relationship drama in which the two leads (Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer) are kept apart for most of the narrative - communicating via various forms of telecommunications and social media - but they nonetheless successfully create and maintain a palpable emotional connection. It works because Marques-Marcet has the imagination and ingenuity to circumvent the limits of his low budget (and it is one of the few films I've seen to represent technology in a way that is both believable and immersive for the viewer), and both actors (the only people we see - the film could function as a stage play) deliver nuanced and engaging performances.

La Isla Mínima / Marshland (Alberto Rodríguez, 2014)
I watched this thriller on DVD at the end of last week and I'm disappointed that I won't get the chance to see it on the big screen because the recurring aerial shots of the unusual landscape make this a visually distinctive film (it also won 10 Goya awards just over a week ago - including Best Film, Director, and Leading Actor). In 1980, two detectives - Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) - are sent from Madrid to investigate the disappearance of two teenage sisters in the marshlands of Guadalquivir in southern Spain. This was a time of political transition in Spain and the two men effectively represent the old (Juan) and the new (Pedro), and the compromises that Spain would have to make in order to move towards democracy. That makes the film sound more schematic than it is, as Rodríguez is more interested in the grey areas of overlap than black and white demarcations, and he also keeps the crime story moving along at a cracking pace. I'll be writing something about it for the blog - it should be up within the next week.

Two films I'd like to see:

Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szifron, 2014)
An Argentinian-Spanish co-production (and I consider anything with El Deseo's name on it worth checking out), Wild Tales is a series of six short stories threaded together through the common theme of the worm that turns. I have yet to read a bad word about it (I'm talking general impressions - I've avoided reading details because the tales are apparently quite twisty), and most people who have seen it seem to want to see it again (and you can't get a much higher recommendation than that). It also has a top-notch case: Darín! Sbaraglia! Grandinetti!

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014)
Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Jauja is the first of Alonso's films to be made with a screenwriting partner (Fabian Casas) and a professional cast (headed by Viggo Mortensen). The basic outline is that a 19th-century Danish military man (Mortensen) is searching for his runaway teenage daughter across the wilds of a South American landscape and goes on a metaphysical journey in the process. Again, I've avoided reading too many of the details about the film (Keyframe did a round-up of critics' opinions during Cannes and the New York Film Festival, should you wish to know more) but although critical reception was by no means unanimously positive, this is definitely one I'd like to catch up with.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Birthday time again

    The blog's birthday always seems to catch me unawares - for some reason I remember it as starting later in the month than it did. Anyway, that's my excuse for not having a special post ready for Nobody Knows Anybody's fourth birthday. 

    So what happened in 2014? There were ups and downs, but overall it was a marked improvement on 2013.  

    In the negative column, I'm still in the same job as I was this time last year. Staff morale has continued in steady decline since the restructure in 2013 but has noticeably nosedived even further in the last six months. The smallish team (14 of us) I'm in moved to an open plan basement office (with approx. 55 people in there) in the summer and I've discovered that I don't much like spending my entire day underground with strip lighting and in such close proximity to other people that there is no middle distance to gaze into. I know that a decline in working conditions / environment seems to be being rolled out worldwide, with the Powers That Be apparently in a race to the bottom in terms of how they treat their workforce - and I know that many others have it far worse than me [plus, y'know, a job is a job *repeats ad infinitum*] - but it makes going to work more of a grind than it needs to be. In an effort to see more sky, towards the end of the year I started walking to and from work (about 3 miles) - at the moment I mainly see night sky, but I figure that if I can stick with it during the cold and dark, then the warm (ha!) and light should be a doddle.
    Anyway, it was a combination of the ongoing crappy working conditions and my being tied to home outside of working hours (a family member had multiple surgeries) during 2013 that made me determined to do more of the things I enjoy, but also to get out and about more in 2014. 
    Film festivals combined both of those things. I started off small with a daytrip to Manchester in March to catch a double bill at the 20th Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, and I also saw several documentaries in the same month as part of the AV Festival in my home city (Newcastle). Then I found out that three of the 'otro cine español' titles I was investigating were screening at Bradford International Film Festival (April), so I headed off there (I wrote about those films for Mediático - Costa da Morte ended up being my favourite film of the year). Three days in Edinburgh (June) followed, another three in Berwick (September), a 24-hr return to Edinburgh for the inaugural Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival in October, and finally four days in Leeds (November). Although Spanish films featured at most (but not all) of those festivals, as I said in my birthday post last year I wanted to broaden the range of films I was watching, so the Spanish titles were not necessarily the main reason for attending a given festival. I'm no better at negotiating large groups of people I don't know in a festival context than I am in a conference setting, and I didn't explore places as much as I should have, but I saw some good films - many of which I might not get the chance to see anywhere else. I'll be continuing with my film-seeking travels in 2015 and will hopefully also head beyond the UK at some point this year as well.
    The other thing that I said that I wanted to do in 2014 was consider other forms / arenas of publication. That's something I'm still working on (I think I need to broaden the scope of what I write about before I approach some of the publications I've been thinking of), but I considerably upped the amount of writing I was doing last year, which was a challenge given that I work full-time but I think that my writing improved through more consistent application and effort. The much-mentioned (by me) Javier Bardem article morphed into something else entirely, but it was published as part of The Cine-Files special issue on acting. I wrote two short 'Lost Classics' pieces for The Big Picture Magazine website (the first on Entre tinieblas (Pedro Almodóvar, 1983), the second on Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 1975)) and two articles for Mediático (the already-mentioned one about the Spanish films at BIFF, and one on censorship and Spanish documentary - the latter being the piece of writing I was happiest with last year). But the main part of my new output has been reviews, primarily for Eye for Film (45 reviews) and a handful for Take One (7 reviews). Writing reviews has allowed me to write about non-Spanish films for the first time in years - and I wrote at least one review for each festival I attended (around 30 of the Eye for Film reviews are for Spanish films - mainly because I covered the London Spanish Film Festival in September (from the comfort of my own home because a lot of the films were available on DVD or VOD) and the Spanish retrospectives at Leeds - ordinarily I don't think I would see so many Spanish films on the festival circuit in one year).

    As I trundle on into the fifth year of writing this blog my plans are not much changed from those of a year ago. My 2014 project of researching this ever-mutating 'otro cine español' continues, although I am much more focused on documentaries than I was at the start, and I have also been watching a variety of (non-Spanish) documentaries for a broader context. Hopefully I'll reach a point this year where I work out exactly what the nub of what I'm going after in this research is and what shape the writing needs to take. The Carlos Saura Challenge has (finally) restarted and I'll be trying to keep momentum going with that - I need to watch at least two of them a month to be in with a hope of finishing the challenge this year, so we'll see how I go. I'll be going to more festivals and writing more reviews, but also thinking about different ways to write about both festivals and the films I see there. I'd like to learn how to make a video essay. And I think I should aim to write something in Spanish. Maybe. I've currently got a backlog of viewing unrelated to the blog, so I need to work through that during the next couple of weeks - but after that I hope to fall back into a regular pattern of writing on here too.