I saw Obra (which means ‘work’, but can also mean ‘building works’) in 2015, at Barcelona’s Festival Internacional de Cine D’Autor. I liked the film sufficiently that I’ve periodically checked to see whether a DVD release has surfaced – no DVD has materialised, but I’ve just discovered that it’s available to stream on Amazon Prime in the UK (here). In São Paulo, young architect Joao Carlos (Irandhir Santos) discovers a clandestine burial on the worksite of his first important project, located in a lot belonging to his family. Writing for Eye for Film back in 2015, I said that:
The opening credits set up the basic through-line of the film, that the past may be hidden but it remains underneath waiting to be discovered – a theme underlined by Joao Carlos’s wife (Lola Peploe) working as an archaeologist in the centre of the city. Shot in a silvery black and white that at times has the texture of a pencil drawing, Obra’s first images show architectural forms gradually appearing in the morning mist, ghost-like structures that slowly accumulate into the form of São Paulo – but those initial shapes and outlines can still be observed within the overall image. Throughout the film, the textures and forms of buildings are contrasted as part of the fabric of a changing city, and the black and white composition captures elements of beauty in even the most rundown corner of the dense urban sprawl.
I don’t know whether it will stand up to the version I have in my memory, but it combines two of my persistent cinematic interests in a way that stood out for me in 2015: an unusual focus on – and use of – architectural space, and the idea of the city as palimpsest. I’m generally bad at following through on intentions to watch things at a later date, but hopefully I will manage to rewatch this sometime soon.
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 UPDATE: It does have English subs [despite the listings details showing no sign of them]). 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.
One of those months. I watched Chavela (Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, 2017) – a documentary about the life and travails of singer Chavela Vargas (who often features on the soundtracks of Almodóvar’s films) – on Filmin.
I want to direct your attention to two online film festivals taking place during December: ArteKino and Márgenes. ArteKino is a Europe-wide initiative (it runs in 45 countries) to support contemporary European arthouse (their term) films by offering a wider audience the chance to view them (film distribution being what it is these days). 10 films – all with subtitles available in French, German, Spanish, and English – are free to view between 1st-17th December. You can see the full line-up here. The selection includes Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude, 2016), one of the few films I’ve seen this year that I can wholeheartedly recommend – catch that one here.
I’ve written about Festival Márgenes for the past few years (last year’s post is here) and will likely write another overview post at some point later in the month. The 7th Festival Márgenes will also make films free to view – in this case, films from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Ibero-America (Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Latin American countries), with an emphasis on documentaries and experimental formats. I think the online stage is either due to start tomorrow or on the 10th (it usually runs in the last three weeks of the year) but their website is currently down for maintenance The online stage runs 2nd-23rd December – the official selection can be found on this page. (which is loading for me, but I’ve had that window open in my browser for the past week to remind myself about it – so I’m not sure that it will load for other people just now). There is also an online retrospective of the films of Luis Ospina. I don’t know whether all of the films listed will be available online in all geographic locations (there are sometimes restrictions around certain titles) and I have no idea about the subtitle situation. I only ever manage to watch a couple of films in this festival each year, but always find something interesting and worth seeking out – this year I will be aiming to watch (based on what I’ve read about them previously) Expo Lío ’92 (María Cañas, 2017), Los mutantes (Gabriel Azorín, 2016), and 25 Cines/Seg (Luis Macías, 2017). If I have time, I will write an overview in a similar form to previous years – but if not, I still wanted to highlight the festival to anyone who appreciates experimental film-making.
History and politics mainly, with a dash of Busby Berkeley and Álex de la Iglesia thrown in for good measure (Herederos de la bestia is a talking heads / oral history documentary about the making – and the impact/legacy within Spanish cinema – of the latter’s much-loved second feature, El día de la bestia / The Day of the Beast (1995)).
Plus Piazza Vittorio (Abel Ferrara, 2017) (which doesn’t seem to have a poster), via Festival Scope’s Venice Sala Web – having pointed out the selection in last month’s post, I then only managed to watch one film there myself. I also missed all of Mubi’s Argentine cinema season, apart from La mujer de los perros / Dog Lady (Laura Citarella & Verónica Llinás, 2015). I’ve not really been in a film-watching mood.
I am intending to watch Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s documentary series, The VietnamWar, which is available on the BBC iPlayer during October if you’re in the UK (the first episode ishere) – David Thomson reviewed the series in the London Review of Books (note: the version being shown in the UK is the 10-hour international cut, rather than the 18-hour version being shown in the US).
‘Experimental making-of’ is usually the basic description of the film Pere Portabella constructed behind the scenes of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) – next week sees its UK debut on (region free) DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Second Run. I reviewed the film in 2015 when it was screening at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival as part of their ‘Fact or Fiction’ theme. As I pointed out, Portabella’s repurposing of what Franco was doing creates an interesting dissection of several levels of mythologising:
[…] the mechanics of filmmaking are as much an element of fascination for him as the mythology of Stoker’s Count. The two aspects come together in a sequence where Christopher Lee (who would collaborate with Portabella on another film – Umbracle – the same year) removes the prosthetics and accoutrements (contact lenses, hair, fangs) that transform him into an onscreen monster – a metamorphosis in reverse and a demythologising or deconstruction of both a film star and one of his most famous roles (something that Franco was cashing in on).
Portabella has had a long and varied career and is still (occasionally) making films. His most recent was documentary Informe General II: El nuevo rapto de Europa (2016), which is a sequel of sorts to his 1976 epic Informe general sobre algunas cuestiones de interés para una proyecciónpública – I’ve seen the latter but not the former (yet), and the two are available together ina boxset that has optional English subtitles. [UPDATE 11/10/2017: Mubi are showing those two films for the next 30 days – here]. I watched Vampir Cuadecuc from a career-spanning boxset of Portabella’s work (it covers 1967 – 2009, containing all of his films apart from Informe General II), which is produced by Intermedio (I bought my boxset directly from them) and likewise has optional English subtitles on all of the films. I particularly recommend his short films (Poetes Catalans (1970) is my favourite – I wrote about it on the old blog in a 2014 ‘best of the year’ post).