Courtesy of David Cairns signposting that his film Natan (co-directed with Paul Duane) was now streaming online, I discovered a new (to me) streaming platform: IFFRUnleashed. It hosts a veritable cornucopia of esoteric titles from the festival circuit, reasonably priced at 4€ for a feature and 1€ for a short.
There are a number of films that I’ve seen at festivals but not encountered elsewhere, including a range of works by Spanish directors – such as El Futuro (Luis López Carrasco, 2013) and L’Accademia delle Muse (Jose Luis Guerin, 2015 – I might finally get to watch it with English subs!) – but also short films by directors like Radu Jude, Mark Rappaport, and Benjamín Naishtat. I’m going to link to a handful of titles that I’ve previously written about:
In other Spanish film streaming news, Carlos Vermut’s Quién te cantará (2018) has just popped up on Netflix UK, which is unexpected (I may have given an involuntary yelp when I spotted it in ‘Recently Added’) but welcome (the forthcoming Spanish DVD release – which I’ve pre-ordered – doesn’t have any English subs). Netflix UK continues to add very recent Spanish films and TV series, offering a much broader range of Spanish titles than was ever seen in terms of UK DVD releases in the past.
The current issue of Caimán cuadernos de cine includes a feature on 50 films to look out for in 2019 (not available online, hence the image of the page I want to emphasise); the vast majority are the (predictable) titles that will show up in such features irrespective of the geographic location of the magazine, but they’ve also highlighted some homegrown titles in the mix. Caimán was where I first heard/read mention of ‘el otro cine español’ so it’s perhaps not surprising that their emphasis is on filmmakers who fall into that loose archipelago of a ‘group’, but it is nonetheless welcome because I wouldn’t ordinarily hear about such films until they make a splash at a film festival.
By strange coincidence, six of the filmmakers featured appeared in one of my round-up pieces of my favourite films of the year (on the earlier incarnation of the blog that focussed solely on Spanish cinema) back in 2014 – although some of them have made at least one other film in the meantime, it’s somewhat depressing that it has taken 4-5 years for the others to manage to make another feature. Of those six earlier films, I saw four at film festivals and two on DVD (three of the festival titles have still not been released in a home viewing format), an indication that I may have to be willing to travel if I want to see these new ones. Putting Almodóvar’s Dolor y gloria to one side (because it should get a UK release), the films that I’m most interested in tracking down are:
Tempo vertical / Vertical Time (dir. Lois Patiño). That 2014 round-up piece sums up how I found Patiño’s Costa da morte / Coast of Death (2013) (also reviewed by me here) to be a visually overwhelming experience in the cinema, and I am intrigued by the description of the new film as ‘una película fantasma’ where ‘time appears to be still while nature continues living’ [my translation of the text in the image] because that sounds like a kind of companion piece to his eerie short film Noite sin distancia / Night without Distance (2015) (reviewed by me here).
El año de descubrimiento / The Year of Discovery (dir. Luis López Carrasco). López Carrasco’s previous film, El Futuro / The Future (2013), specifically took place in 1982 (the film opens with the audio of Felipe González’s victory speech in the aftermath of the PSOE’s triumph in the 1982 election) [I wrote about the film – and also Costa da morte – in this festival report focussed on Spanish films that screened at Bradford International Film Festival] and the new one is apparently 1992. Yes, that’s ten years later but 1992 was a significant year for Spain (my PhD thesis covered 1992-2007 and the choice of starting year was not happenstance) so I’ll be interested to see how López Carrasco treats the potent cultural currents of that year (for example, is the title a reference to the anniversary of Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic [the mention of shipyards in the description is what has made that connection in my mind]? Or something completely unrelated, in the lives of characters in the film? [side note: the Columbus connection is relatively minor in terms of what was going on in Spain in 1992, but it was what the title suggested to me])
Longa Noite / Long Night (dir. Eloy Enciso). Enciso’s Arraianos (2012) [my review is here] shares Costa da morte‘s rootedness in the Galician landscape – although Enciso’s film also maps itself into the musicality of the Galician language as well – and this new film likewise seems to have a strong connection to that borderland region.
Reservado al personal / Staff Only (dir. Neus Ballús). I’ve only written about Ballús’s La plaga / The Plague Year (2013) in the context of that round-up piece. But I’m interested to see how her filmmaking style has developed given that the description suggests that this is also a docu-fiction, and that – although it focuses on a father-daughter conflict during a family holiday to Senegal – it also seems to retain her interest in people living/working in in-between spaces, this time encompassing the darker side of the tourism industry.
La virgen de agosto / The August Virgin (dir. Jonás Trueba). I haven’t written much about Trueba’s films to date – the round-up piece is the only place I’ve written about Los ilusos / The Wishful Thinkers (2013), and his earlier Todos las canciones hablan de mí / All the Songs Are About Me (2010) featured in my equivalent post from 2011. ‘Dreamy / romantic chronicles of Madrid’ could broadly summarise those of his films I’ve seen so far (I’ve not yet caught up with Los exiliados románticos / The Exiled Romantics, which looks like ‘dreamy / romantic chronicles outside of Madrid’), and the description suggests that this one also falls within that realm. Given that his last film (La reconquista / The Reconquest (2016)) has ended up on Netflix UK, there might be an outside possibility that this will do likewise but I’ll not bet on it if the opportunity to see it at a festival appears (I’ll continue tapping my foot while waiting for Los ilusos to get a DVD release).
I guess that there’s a possibility that one or some of these films might feature within Edinburgh’s focus on Spanish cinema (given that it’s the contemporary strand that hasn’t been announced yet). Fingers crossed!
*The English titles given above are my literal translation of the titles, so they may end up being called something else in English if they circulate. The exception is Neus Ballús’s film, which had that translated title when it screened in Berlin.
I spotted via Eye for Filmthe announcement that the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s 2019 Country Focus (a recurring strand of the festival’s programme) will be Spain. What they’ve announced so far is the retrospective part of the strand: an overview of ‘modern Spanish cinema’; a selection of ‘cult Spanish cinema’; and a filmmaker retrospective of Icíar Bollaín.
Bollaín is based in Edinburgh, so that element kind of makes sense. I like a lot of her films (I haven’t seen the two most recent ones), and I admire her commitment to exploring social issues through cinema, and her recurrent focus on the lives of women in varying circumstances. It’s a little strange that they don’t seem to be screening Te doy mis ojos / Take My Eyes (2003); it is effectively an encapsulation of her interests and cinematic style. Personally, I think that it’s her strongest film. But, that said, perhaps it is relatively well known and they’re aiming to highlight films that haven’t had distribution over here (although También la lluvia / Even the Rain (2010) and El Olivo / The Olive Tree (2016) are included)? I would recommend Flores de otro mundo / Flowers of Another World (1999), Even the Rain, and En tierra extraña / In a Foreign Land (2014) if you get the chance to see them.
But ‘the retrospective celebration of modern Spanish cinema’ is just…odd. I don’t mind the films individually – although I was among the minority that didn’t overly like La piel que habito / The Skin I Live In (Almodóvar, 2011) – but they are not collectively a good illustration of ‘modern Spanish cinema’ in its actual diversity (yes, the selected films span multiple genres, but that isn’t what I mean by cinematic diversity – i.e. a range of voices, styles, and budgets). ‘[S]ome of the finest Spanish cinema of recent times’ is making that ‘some’ do a lot of heavy lifting. ‘Films that have been nominated for Goyas in the last decade’, perhaps. Putting Tarde para la ira / The Fury of a Patient Man (Arévalo, 2016) to one side because I still haven’t watched it (aiming to over Christmas) and I have only heard good things about it, I think that there are more interesting, distinctive, and/or innovative films that have been made in Spain in the last decade (off the top of my head, Diamond Flash (Vermut, 2011), L’accademia della muse / The Academy of Muses(Guerin, 2015), De tu ventana a la mía / Chrysalis (Ortíz, 2012), many films within the Novo Cinema Galego, El Futuro / The Future (López Carrasco, 2013), La distancia / The Distance (Caballero, 2014), Dead Slow Ahead (Herce, 2015), for starters). Those films might not be for everyone (I’m wracking my brains trying to think of a ‘recent’ Spanish film I’ve liked that’s had an A-to-B-to-C style narrative structure, or otherwise been a box-office smash, so I accept that the films that interest me tend to be outside of the mainstream [although not exclusively]) but innovation and different perspectives should be celebrated alongside mainstream commercial cinema, especially at film festivals.
Anyway, I’ll keep an eye out for them announcing the ‘separate programme of contemporary Spanish cinema’ (which may not be until the full programme is revealed in May). Personal wish list (although I won’t hold my breath): Petra (Rosales, 2018); Entre dos aguas (Lacuesta, 2018); Quién te cantará (Vermut, 2018); Trote (Baño, 2018); Viaje al cuarto de una madre (Rico Clavellino, 2018); Carmen y Lola (Echevarria, 2018); and Apuntes para una película de atracos (Siminiani, 2018).
The spirit of Bigas Luna lives on. ‘Jamónjamón meets Yo soy la Juani, but slicker’ was my first thought, but mainly because the video shares his unashamed harnessing – and celebration – of españolidad (and youth).
The breadth of my cultural references seems to be the first casualty of my extended absences (and eventual full departure) from twitter; the song was a massive hit in Spain in the summer, but although I was aware of Rosalía (she is part of the cast of Almodóvar’s next film) it wasn’t until earlier this week that I encountered the video/song (her new album, El MalQuerer, was released yesterday). The video is directed by the Barcelona-based collective CANADA (they were also responsible for the video for Rosalía’s other 2018 hit, ‘Malamente‘) – there’s an interview about the video with one of the directors here. Plus, an English language interview with Rosalía about El Mal Querer.
It seemed about time to post an update, given that in my last post I said that I’d be back this summer. I won’t be back posting before the autumn, but I’m intending to start with some sort of catch-up with Spanish cinema.
I’ve got a stack of Spanish films (most of which are fairly ‘recent’) that I’ve bought during the past 18 months but not yet watched – some of which can be seen above. I will hopefully start watching them next month (time permitting) – I won’t write about everything, but in terms of picking up viewing / writing again, it’s as good a starting place as anywhere else. I haven’t forgotten about the next section of the Carlos Saura Challenge (hey, I have a documentary about him right there) but I’m unlikely to re-start that in the immediate future (I’m concentrating on some job-related tasks at the moment). I should be back on here in a few months…hasta pronto. Or pronto-ish, anyway.
Yes, this is a film blog (don’t worry, I’ll get to the films shortly). But – for me – reading replaced writing this year. I said at the start of the year that I had lost interest in writing about films…twelve months later that remains the case. I tried publicly recording (on here) what I watched each month hoping that it might make me write something on a regular schedule but it became nothing more than a listing exercise, and a flurry of activity around a new approach to the Carlos Saura Challenge petered out again once I’d got to the end of the first section (although I am intending to continue with the second section). Books were what managed to hold my attention in 2017.
I always used to have a book on the go, and throughout my teenage years and my twenties could easily get through a book a week (more during the holidays). I’m talking about reading for pleasure or to satisfy personal curiosity (not studying); the ‘list’ above excludes anything I read for job-related purposes. Back in 2013, concurrent situations in personal and professional spheres pushed up my stress/anxiety levels to a point where I couldn’t concentrate on things that didn’t have a clear purpose (or that weren’t obligatory) – reading ceased to be a relaxing activity for me, and I stopped reading for pleasure.
I felt the loss of that in my life, but I got too frustrated by my inability to concentrate on what I was reading. I managed to read fiction occasionally (usually started when on holiday but it would then take me several months to read a not-very-long book) but generally my only reading was the news or magazine articles. I started writing more during this period but knew that I would find it easier (or less difficult) if I was reading more, in terms of grasping both ideas and words. Last year I was determined to get back into reading properly (strangely enough the news isn’t particularly attractive reading material at the moment): I set myself the challenge of a book (fiction or non-fiction) each month. I managed fourteen books in 2016, only five of which were fiction. Non-fiction was easier to get into because such books usually involved me trying to find an answer to something, or understand something that had crossed my radar and piqued my interest, so a sense of purpose came into play. But I was disappointed with my continued distraction in relation to fiction (the five fiction books were all read in the first half of the year), given that it used to dominate my reading habits.
So, to 2017. I doubled my challenge: two books a month, and at least one had to be fiction. I considered how my habits had changed since the days when I always had a book on the go: the bulk of my reading used to be done in the evening but now I was more likely to be on my laptop at that time of day. I decided that my laptop would have to be switched off by 9pm (unless I was studying an online course or watching a film on it). I looked for short story collections and novellas with the idea that I’d be more able to maintain my concentration with shorter texts as a starting point (probably 30-35% of the books I’ve read this year have clocked in at under 200 pages), but I also tracked down the ‘next’ book in several long-running crime fiction series that I’d previously read avidly – the longest books I’ve read this year have all been from the latter category. Although I clearly surpassed my target, I have still had periods where I’ve drifted back into a listless lack of concentration and not read anything for several weeks at a time. I’ve noticed that this corresponds to peaks in my levels of stress/anxiety; obviously that’s something I still need to address. Overall I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made: I’ve enjoyed reading again, and got properly engrossed in a book again (to a stayed-up-far-too-late-to-finish-a-book-when-I-had-work-the-next-day extent). The fiction/non-fiction split has also reversed – 29 fiction / 16 non-fiction – which feels like a good balance (although I’d also be happy with 50/50). I’m currently still reading book no.45, one of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series (it’s the right time of year to reacquaint yourself with old friends) – A Man Without Breath – but should finish it before the year is out.
My top 10 books read this year:
As I’ve said, these were all read for pleasure or to satisfy personal curiosity – I don’t write notes about books read outside of a work/study context, and I don’t read them in order to critique them, so I’m not going to expand on my choices book by book. But they are all books that resonated with me, moved me, made me laugh, or made me consider the world / society from a different perspective. Some aspect of each one has stayed with me, continuing to flitter through my mind long after I finished reading them.
Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson (no, I’ve not seen the film)
A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit
A Far Cry from Kensington – Muriel Spark
The Lonely City – Olivia Laing
Closely Watched Trains – Bohumil Hrabal
Nights at the Alexandra – William Trevor
Heroes and Villains – Angela Carter
The Moro Affair – Leonardo Sciascia
The Knowledge Illusion: Why we never think alone – Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach
Tell Me How It Ends: An essay in forty questions – Valeria Luiselli
Honourable mentions (alphabetical by title):A Song of Shadows – John Connolly, Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, Hold Everything Dear – John Berger, They Can’t Kill Us All – Wesley Lowery.
2018: I’ll be looking to attempt some longer books, and my overall aim will be fifty-two books for the year.
At the time of writing, I’ve watched 75 films (56 features and 19 shorts) this year – I actually thought it was fewer than that, but it is still a marked drop in comparison to a couple of years ago (e.g. the 312 films I watched in 2015). I didn’t go to any film festivals this year and only went to the cinema once. I don’t want cinema-going to become what reading was to me a few years ago but it’s not really the same set of circumstances – there’s a general lack of interest/enthusiasm on my part…and I don’t currently feel the need to try to counteract that (in relation to reading I felt the lack; I don’t feel like I’m missing anything at the moment). I intended to make an effort to see Blade Runner 2049 at the cinema (Denis Villeneuve’s last three films have all justified a trip to the big screen) but didn’t get around to it; I just wasn’t bothered enough (to go) in the end. I’m still watching older titles on DVD/VOD, although the demise of Lovefilm has narrowed the options (I have ended up getting Netflix – mainly because of TV series I wanted to watch – but the range of films is nowhere near as extensive as Lovefilm was).
I also haven’t caught up with films that came out earlier in the year that are now available on DVD/VOD. My list of titles to catch up with includes: Baby Driver, The Beguiled, The Fits, Good Time, Jackie, Logan, Moonlight, Neruda, Personal Shopper, Silence, Wonder Woman…and more. I’ve also got at least a dozen Spanish DVDs that I’ve bought throughout the year but still not watched: Abracadabra, Júlia ist, María (y los demás), No sé decir adiós, Que dios nos perdone, Tarde para la ira (which is also available on Netflix UK, under the title The Fury of a Patient Man), Verano 1993…and more. I’ll be looking at other people’s ‘best of 2017’ lists to see whether there’s anything else I should be tracking down – although the more unusual works (the hidden gems that get championed by certain film writers) often don’t make their way beyond the festival circuit.
Anyway, that’s a longwinded way of saying that I haven’t seen enough new films this year to compile a top 10 or even a top 5 of 2017, so instead my top 10 for this year encompasses all of the films I’ve seen in the past twelve months (irrespective of when they were produced) –
1.Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016) – I knew when I watched this back in January that I’d likely not see anything else this year as chucklesome and enjoyable (no, I haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet…but I will, and it’s the first time I’ve been remotely interested in a Marvel film). I bought it for both of my brothers for their respective birthdays – the last film that compelled me do that was Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2014) [very different films, just similarly on my wavelength] – and am still quoting it at random intervals. More Sam Neill in films, please.
2.A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1969) – ‘widely regarded as the greatest martial arts epic of all time’ says the blurb on the back of the DVD. I wouldn’t disagree.
3.La notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961) – Moreau, Mastroianni, and Vitti. One of those films that I find difficult to write about because my engagement with it was felt rather than thought.
4.Inimi cicatrizate / Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude, 2016) – in 2015, I wrote in relation to Jude’s Aferim! that ‘it just feels as if you’re in the hands of a director who has something to say and knows how he wants to say it’, and Scarred Hearts confirmed that for me. He is one of the most interesting directors working today. I hope that his latest film – a documentary, The Dead Nation – gets some kind of distribution here (Scarred Hearts so far has only been available as VOD for limited periods).
5.Dragon Inn (King Hu, 1967) – As with A Touch of Zen, one of the striking things was recognising how many later films have paid homage / ripped off the original work. I’ve already pre-ordered King Hu’s Legend of the Mountain (1979), which is being released by Eureka in March.
6.Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes (Carlos Saura, 1978) – by no means a perfect film or a masterpiece, but definitely one of Saura’s most interesting films (of those I’ve watched so far) and one that I knew little about before watching it. It coheres to the director’s oft-explored themes but feels like the work of someone refining their view of the world – or refining how they represent that viewpoint on/in film. I wrote about it for the first time in July.
7.Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant / The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972) – this is like last year when I had to admit that Modern Times was the first Chaplin feature film that I’d watched; this is the first Fassbinder film I’ve seen. My aversion to date has mainly been the number of people who’ve told me that I have to watch his films, usually with the hushed earnestness employed by Naomie Harris’s character in A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom, 2006) when she proselytises her love of Fassbinder to Steve Coogan. This one is hysterical (in both the heightened emotion and humorous senses of the word) and oh-so-perfectly framed and staged (so much is done with one defined and limited space – and silently expressed via the positioning of the camera and different characters within that space). Yeah, ok, I’ll make an effort to watch some more of his films.
8.Machines (Rahul Jain, 2017) – I like films that show work processes (as in the machinery / mechanical process by which something is made but also the actual human labour involved). Machines is a full immersion (sights and ear-racketing sounds) into a labyrinthine Indian textile factory where workers toil for a pittance under minimal safety regulations and with little recourse for improving their conditions. It highlights social injustice without preaching and allows the workers to express themselves (and their fatigued resignation) in their own words.
9.I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, 2017) – earlier in the year I read this interview with Kasper Collin about how he came to make his documentary on the life (and death) of trumpeter Lee Morgan (how certain aspects of the story came to be told is a story in itself – and forms part of the film). The interviewer’s enthusiasm for the film stuck with me sufficiently that when I randomly saw it listed on Netflix, I decided to watch it. It is one of those instances where the film form is shaped to reflect the artistry of the individual it examines in a way that feels organic to the material rather than a stylised add-on. I won’t detail how the tragic story unfolds but the sense of loss (for those interviewed but also what Lee Morgan’s absence represents for music) is palpable long before the finale is in sight.
10.I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016) – I didn’t know all that much about James Baldwin beforehand but could quite happily have watched a lot more footage of him holding forth, which may point to a shortcoming of the film – although it uses his words throughout, the film is more impactful when he is the person speaking them and slows down when he isn’t on screen. Some reservations (mainly in relation to stylistic choices) about the film notwithstanding, the man and his insight (born of lived experience combined with an extremely articulate intellect) are sufficient for an enthralling viewing experience. I need to add him to my To Be Read pile.
Honourable mention:The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (Brett Story, 2017).
What next in 2018? First of all, another extended break from blogging, but this time I won’t be posting at all. Like last year, I’m doing some courses in the first few months of the year and need to concentrate on that. I didn’t achieve the other part of what my 2017 break was intended to do – work out a clearer direction for what I want to do on here – so that’s something else to think about. If I’m feeling so disengaged from film, is there any point in continuing with a blog? I don’t know…although I’m not inclined to shut down the blog altogether because I don’t think my disengagement will be a permanent state of being. But the blog will be quiet for the first half of the year – I hope to return later in the year with the next stage of the Carlos Saura Challenge, but I’m not setting any dates.
I noted at the end of last year that I wanted to spend less time on Twitter, and I put that into effect after I’d finished the first part of the Carlos Saura Challenge in July. I haven’t found sources of news that are as potentially diverse as Twitter but I’d reached the point where spending time on there negatively impacted my mood too much, and – while there are people with whom I miss chatting about books/films/the general fuckwittery and sheer incompetence of the British government – I had effectively already changed from a participant to an observer most of the time. I’m not closing my account but I’m also not intending to spend much time on there (FYI: I switched off email notifications for everything except DMs) – aside from anything else, I’ll not get those books read! So there will likely be radio silence for the first half of the year – but I should reappear on Nobody Knows Anybody part way through the summer.
For now, I wish you all health and happiness in 2018!