Posted by Roy Stafford on 22 March 2013
The three central characters – after hours in a shopping mall, (l-r) Oki, Alex and Gabi
Patricia Ferreira was picked out by Rob Stone (Spanish Cinema, Longman, 2002: 11) as one of “a growing number of talented and committed female directors in Spain”. Since her début feature in 1999 she has completed five more and she came to ¡Viva! to introduce Els nens salvatges and then to answer questions after the film.
Els nens salvatges is in one sense a familiar genre – a form of youth picture focusing on three teenagers and their parents. It didn’t occur to me until later that structurally the narrative resembles Rebel Without a Cause – two boys and a girl who hang out together, get into scrapes and have to deal with various issues associated with their parents. Meanwhile, in school and on the streets they have run-ins with teachers and fellow students. However, in its origination and treatment the Spanish film is quite different. Ms Ferreira explained that the idea for the film came from an incident some 15 years ago that prompted a debate about youths and parents and the Spanish school system. She suggested that Spanish people would remember the story. Her re-working of the story, co-written by herself and Virginia Yagüe, offers us Alex (Àlex Monner) as a graffiti artist and Gabi (Albert Baró) as a kickboxer. Laura, aka ‘Oki’, (Marina Comas) is the girl from the better-off family who recognises something in the boys’ behaviour that she finds attractive.
Patricia Ferreira has a documentary background and she liked the idea of being an outsider in Barcelona and ‘observing’ the youth of the city. She also decided to try to offer a naturalistic view of relationships in which both Catalan (including Majorcan Catalan) and Castilian are spoken in certain situations. She took a long time in preparation and this was a problem in casting the three leads. Around 15 young people are growing and changing their appearance quite quickly and her early picks had outgrown their roles as shooting approached. She explained that she didn’t want to work with ‘non-professionals’ and she eventually found the young actors who do very well in their roles. The film is essentially realist but it is presented in CinemaScope and looks very good. As I’ve indicated, the characters and the situations are all familiar. Oki has a mother who dotes on her and a father who tries to ‘buy’ her off with expensive presents. Oki gives up on her flamenco classes as part of her ‘rebellion’. Alex has parents who seem to have little time for him, especially his father, and Gabi’s father is the typical macho man who wants his son to be a fighter. We are even offered a sympathetic young school counsellor (played by Aina Clotet who was the lead in Elisa K at ¡Viva! in 2011).
(from left) Cornerhouse Film Programme Manager Rachel Hayward, Patricia Ferreira and interpreter Elena Alonso from the Instituto Cervantes.
It’s the school scenes that seem to have created the most interest. We see the behaviour of students in the classes of a couple of teachers and we see a staffroom meeting discussing what to do about a particular incident. Frankly, I didn’t find any of these scenes to be particularly shocking. They seemed quite ‘real’ and experienced teachers will have seen all this before. The central issue in the film is what all the events lead up to in the final scenes. Before the screening Ferreira explained to us that the film was inspired by a real event. She told us this, I imagine, because she thought that we might find the final part of the narrative to be ‘unreal’ or ‘unlikely’. But the film is edited in such a way that the final act and its impact is discussed before we actually see what happened. I’m not sure this worked for me. This is a shame because everything else worked very well. This is certainly an interesting film and well worth watching. The crux of the issue seems to be that Patricia Ferreira’s approach means we ‘observe’ what the character in question does rather than, as in a mainstream film, being shown or told what he or she feels. I didn’t observe anything that helped explain why the act was committed. Perhaps that is the whole point. The moral seems to be that if teens are misunderstood or if parents and schools don’t treat them with respect, bad things might happen. I don’t mean that to sound trite. The film shows young characters who are occasionally thoughtless in their desire to have fun but not in any way threatening. When something does happen it’s a shock because it seems to come from nowhere. I can’t say much more without giving away the ending which I don’t want to do if the film is going to get a UK release. It has won awards at various festivals and it should work on distribution here.
Overall, a successful event, I feel. I enjoyed the film and the Q&A. This was the last ¡Viva! screening I was able to get to this year. My impression is that it has been another successful festival with two days still to go if you are in Manchester.
Here’s a trailer (no English subs):
Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Films by women, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡, patricia ferreira, youth picture | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 18 March 2013
The Cornerhouse programme of ‘Matinee Classics’ continues during the ¡Viva! Festival so that there is a rare chance to see a screening of an earlier Spanish classic film in the usual Sunday/Wednesday afternoon slot. Las largas vacaciones del 36, directed by Jaime Camino, is a familiar reflection on the experience of the Civil War, made more intriguing by its release in 1976 during the last days of the Francoist regime and soon after the release of Cría cuervos by Carlos Saura (a clever and popular satire of the impact of the regime).
I wasn’t able to find out much about the film before or after the screening, so I’ll have to respond directly to what I saw. I’d classify the it as a family melodrama, except that its style is relatively muted and high emotion is reserved for the closing stages of the film. The title refers to the holidays taken by a couple of bourgeois Barcelona families each year in a village in the hills surrounding the city. In July 1936 the families are in their summer residences when the Civil War begins and they remain there trapped by the war until the fall of Barcelona in early 1939.
The script focuses on two families with one firmly associated with the Republican cause and the other much more pragmatic. This second family reluctantly hides a rich fascist and his partner (and their car) but is then ready to receive the Francoists in 1939. There is a flurry of action in the first few days of the war as the local Republicans secure the village, but for most of the film narrative, the families have to pass the time, finding ways to survive as food runs out and establishing a temporary school for their children. The focus on children ties in with the censorship demands of Francoist cinema (which proscribed what kinds of films would be sanctioned for production), except that these are rather older teenagers. There is nothing very remarkable about the script or the characters, except perhaps the role of the maid Encarta (Angela Molina) who is quite outspoken and has a relatively explicit sexual encounter with one of the teenage boys that perhaps challenged the censor at the time. However, though the film appears quite conventional it does offer an interesting take on the impact of the war including the experience of both boredom and hunger and what it might have been like to have been a middle-class teenager cocooned from the action. The performances are very good and visually the narrative benefits from its unique location above the city. I was reminded of British ‘home front’ films from 1939-45 when characters watch the bombing raids on the city below, signified by the searchlight beams and fires. The film won a prize at Berlin in 1976 and it fits well into the home front genre of war films.
One of the interesting aspects of watching what I presumed was a 35mm print was the variable quality of the reels – damage at reel changes is to be expected, but it was noticeable that some reels had gone ‘pink’ while others had retained a good colour balance. Overall it was fine. In the days of digital projection it’s good to be reminded of both the good and bad points of archive film. I would certainly recommend the film as an archive treat. It shows again on Wednesday this week with the chance to discuss the film with Carmen Herrero, Head of Spanish at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: war film, !Viva¡, family melodrama, home front drama | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 18 March 2013
Rosita (Mariana Cordero) browses a sex shop in the hope of finding something to stimulate her husband’s interest.
I can’t help but compare this film to the recent British attempts to directly address the over 60s cinema audience, but Life Begins Today predates them. It’s also, at least for me, funnier and more poignant than The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet or Song For Marion. The narrative is built around several pensioners who attend a ‘sex class’ in a local education centre. The class is run by an indefatigable teacher who wants her students (with ages ranging from 60s to 80s) to recognise that sex should still be important in their lives. We get to see the impact of the classroom experience on three students and their various family members and relationships. The individual characters are quite well-drawn and varied enough to maintain our interest.
Pepe is the youngest and taken aback that his mistress treats his retirement as a prompt to leave him. Does he want to re-kindle some passion in his relationship with his wife Rosita? He doesn’t try – but she realises that it is up to her. Herminia is trying to lead her own life after the return of her singleton daughter – who seems to treat her as a possible dementia sufferer. Fortunately she bumps into Julián who has returned after many years from Argentina. He doesn’t need much encouragement, which is just as well because his son doesn’t know how to receive him and as convention demands it is his teenage grandson who understands him best. So far, so familiar sex/age comedy. More intriguing perhaps is the representation of the angry and repressed widow Juanita who in the end gets the last laugh from the film.
I hesitate to comment too much on the success of the comedy in the film. It’s all too easy to be entertained by a film in a language that you don’t know – ignoring or not noticing the aspects that in an English language film would be off-putting. Still, I wonder if the fact that both script and direction are by women means that many of the traps in this kind of filmmaking are avoided or handled more successfully. My experience is that, very often, female filmmakers deal with sex and sexuality much more effectively than men.
There was a very good house in Cornerhouse’s biggest screen for this showing and they all seem to have a good time. I suppose it’s asking too much for a UK distributor to pick up the film for more screenings? One last thought, are masturbation jokes finally spreading beyond the usual teenage boys comedy? Have filmmakers finally realised that most people masturbate at some point?
Trailer (in Spanish, no subs):
Posted in Comedies, Festivals and Conferences, Films by women, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡, sex comedy | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 15 March 2013
Francisca Gavilán as Violeta Parra
I don’t think I’ve seen a film by the Chilean director Andrés Wood before and I wasn’t familiar with the work of the subject of this film Violeta Parra (1917-67). Wood’s 2004 film Machuca has been on my waiting list for films to watch on DVD for some time so I jumped at the chance to see this new film which was the Chilean entry for the 2013 Foreign Language Oscar.
Violeta turns out to be an unusual form of biopic. Music (or more generally ‘artist’) biopics have tended to replace the 1930s and 1940s fascination with politicians and national heroes. Conventional films of this genre feature familiar aspects of the artist’s life – discovery, first success, fame, struggles with integrity, decline etc. Wood offers something very different, ‘layering’ snatches of Violeta’s career one on top of another, out of chronological order, in such a way that we build up an impression of passionate and proud artist, not prepared to put up with audiences or commissioners who don’t appreciate her work. We keep returning to an interview on television in 1962 in which she responds to a particularly unpleasant interviewer. She came from a poor background and she attempted to keep alive aspects of Chilean folk culture in her music and her painting. She performed in Poland and painted in Paris and she fought the conservative establishment in Chile. She died before the dictatorship of Pinochet attacked many of her fellow artists. No hagiography this, it shows Violeta as a woman with desire, anger and demons whose relationships with her children were not straightforward – the script is based on writings by her son. The film looks good with cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz finding ways to represent the dusty plains and Andes trails of Chile as well as Paris and other locations.
Violeta Parra was a major figure in Chilean culture, I have discovered. She led performers into a New Chilean Song movement of folk-based socially committed music which spread throughout Latin America and throughout Iberian culture generally from the 1960s. I’ve no idea whether or not Francisca Gavilán’s portrayal is ‘authentic’ but it certainly worked for me and her performance of many of Violeta’s songs was stunning – I was especially taken by the songs delivered in a powerful voice of thudding drum beats which were quite mesmerising. But perhaps the most dramatic song in the film is about the Sparrowhawk and the Hen – a song with metaphorical meaning for Violeta. Cornerhouse Cinema 2 was packed for the screening but I don’t know if there is a distributor prepared to release a title like this in the UK. Unlike the Frida Kahlo biopic Frida (US 2002) there are no star names known in Europe and North America. Violeta se fue a los cielos is showing again in Viva at 20.40 on Saturday evening and it is well worth a visit. I should see it again.
Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Latin American Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡, Andrés Wood, Chilean cinema, Violeta Parra | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 14 March 2013
A wonderful start to my ¡Viva! festival viewing at Cornerhouse Manchester, this must be the most entertaining film I’ve seen for a while. Just under 90 mins is the perfect length for a comedy. Imagine if you can the 1970s classic, Dog Day Afternoon, re-worked as a kind of Cuban satire with elements of a 1980s Almodóvar comedy. A pair of dim-witted but fairly harmless hoodlums decide to rob a bank in Sevilla on Good Friday dressed as ‘penitents’ (characters in religious processions dressed like Klan members), one in black and one in white. But once the robbery is underway they are completely thrown by the sudden appearance in the bank of a would-be suicide bomber who wants his slot on TV news in order to make an announcement. Soon, the police have surrounded the bank. What happens over the next 70 minutes or so is predictable I suppose, but the script is fast-moving and quite witty so I was laughing too much to worry about things like that.
Every social problem in Spain – and there are a lot since this is a very topical film – is covered in the selection of characters. So we have a mealy-mouthed bank manager, a fascist entrepreneur who will eventually evoke Franco, a gay auditor, a put-upon female bank teller, a young graduate forced to work as a warehouseman, a timid unemployed man trying to sign on for his benefits, a journalist working on trivial stories etc., etc. The police officer in charge of the operation is not only a woman, but, seemingly worse, a Northerner from Burgos. This is the kind of film that should be being made in the UK since we have nearly all the same problems and there aren’t enough really funny films slagging off bankers and corrupt politicians.
The film is showing again on Monday 18th March at Cornerhouse when writer/director/producer and actor Alfonso Sánchez along with his co-star and fellow sevillano Alberto López will be present for a Q&A. It promises to be a great night, so check to see if any tickets are left and get along there if you are in Manchester.
Posted in Comedies, Festivals and Conferences, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡ | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 6 March 2013
March means !Viva¡, Manchester’s annual festival of Spanish and Latin American film which this year runs from Friday 8th March until Sunday 24th March at Cornerhouse cinema and visual arts centre. This year’s programme promises the familiar mix of features and documentaries, education events and visiting filmmakers plus a complementary gallery programme featuring the work of Yoshua Okón in ‘Octopus’. The artist will be appearing in a Q&A session on Saturday 9 March with clips of his video work.
We’ll be making two visits to the festival and reporting on parts of the film programme. There are ten UK premieres and we are particularly excited by the range of work from Latin America this year with films from Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Chile and Colombia alongside Mexican and Argentina. There are several new Spanish titles including genre films. Lobos de Arga (Game of Werewolves) is a ‘werewolf comedy’ that will be introduced by Andy Willis in a ’1 hour intro’ on 12th March. Other highlights include this year’s Oscar contender from Uruguay, La demora. This is a family drama by the Mexican director Rodrigo Plá whose earlier La zona was a hit at !Viva¡ in 2008.
!Viva¡ is a friendly festival with tickets at standard prices. The festival is spread out with two or three films on most days. Several of the films play twice. Why not visit Manchester for the day? You can download the festival programme from its homepage. Our first report will come later next week.
Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Latin American Cinema, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡ | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 16 March 2012
In the opening sequence set in 1937, the circus performers are dragooned into fighting against the Nationalist rebels.
This is exactly the kind of film that it would probably be impossible to see outside of !Viva¡ or another major festival in the UK (I think it played at Edinburgh last Summer). And yet this is not a film by an unknown director. Álex de la Iglesia is a prominent Spanish filmmaker who first appeared with Acción mutante in 1992 but most of his titles that have been released in the UK in the past ten years have made little impact, except for the English language literary adaptation, The Oxford Murders (2008). Perhaps it is not surprising. Núria Triana-Toribio opens her book Spanish National Cinema (Routledge 2003) with a comment on de la Iglesia to the effect that he is “the present, and possibly the future of Spanish Cinema. At the same time, his films may also be the death-knell of the very idea of a Spanish national cinema”. She goes on to explain that with all their references to authentic Spanish culture, no films could be more ‘castizo‘ – ‘pure’ and ‘traditional’. Yet this is all in spirit of parodying that national culture. And, of course, the full range of the references is only accessible by a local audience.
Balada triste de trompeta is a Spanish-French co-production, so presumably the French production partners thought that they were funding something that would work in the French market. I make no claims to a great knowledge of Spanish culture but I think I got enough of the references. The English title doesn’t help much as the narrative is essentially about two clowns and particularly about the ‘sad clown’ (the ‘sad trumpet ballad’ is sung on screen in a cinema at one point and the trumpet makes another crucial appearance in a different context). Where do they get these English titles from?
Initially it is 1937 and a circus troupe finds itself caught up in the Republican resistance against the Nationalist rebels in Spain. Forced to fight, the circus clown hacks down several of the enemy with his sword/machete but is then captured and eventually put to work with other prisoners after the war has ended, building the Fascist Monument to the Fallen in Valle de los Caidos. The clown’s son, Javier, now a young teenager, attempts to sabotage the building work but in the melée his father is killed and the boy wounds the Fascist colonel in charge. In 1973 the son has now fulfilled his father’s prophecy and become a ‘sad clown’ who is perpetually beaten up in the clown’s act. When he joins a new troupe he meets a particularly vicious clown who is the star attraction. This clown, Sergio, also beats up his girlfriend, the voluptuous Natalia. Javier feels compelled to intervene and is encouraged by Natalia – who nonetheless responds to Sergio’s violent sexual advances. (Natalia is played by Carolina Bang, who is married to the director.) The three-way battle eventually ends in a full-blown action sequence on top of the giant crucifix that stands above the Basilica of the Monument of the Fallen.
You certainly couldn’t accuse Álex de la Iglesia of holding back. This an extravaganza of comedy, horror, extreme violence and sexuality that is part Hitchcockian, part Todd Browning and part every schlocky horror film featuring clowns or children’s entertainers. All of this fits the extended allegory about the Civil War and its aftermath – with Natalia as Spain, Sergio as the brutal tyrannical Fascist and Javier as the anti-fascist. As one review that I read suggested, it’s almost as if de la Iglesia was trying to demonstrate to Guillermo del Toro exactly what a Spanish film about the war might look like. In one of the most bizarre scenes, Javier is reduced to acting as a gun-dog (don’t ask!) during a shoot organised by ageing Fascists and . . . no, I won’t spoil it.
Balada triste de trompeta won a Silver Lion at Venice in 2011 for Álex de la Iglesia as well as several other awards at different festivals. It is available as a Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray from Spain. Did I ‘enjoy’ it? I’m not sure, but I was never bored and I’m glad that I saw it. Thanks to Cornerhouse and !Viva¡ for the opportunity.
Posted in Comedies, Horror, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡, allegorical film, Spanish Civil War | Leave a Comment »