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.
I went to Edinburgh for the day at the weekend in order to catch two documentary films with Spanish connections at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Hamada (Eloy Domínguez Serén, 2018) and La ciudad oculta / The Hidden City (Víctor Moreno, 2018). I’m not going to write about the latter at the moment (I would need to see it again first) – although I would recommend it, if you get the chance to see it (an immersive non-narrative experience into the underground world beneath Madrid, it put me in mind of both Dead Slow Ahead(Mauro Herce, 2015) and Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)).
Hamada is not technically a Spanish film (although the documentary’s subject matter relates to Spain’s colonial past), but Eloy Domínguez Serén is one of the Galician filmmakers whose work I have written about previously – and I’ll be looking out for his name in the future because this is a gem of a film. My Eye for Film review of Hamada can be found here.
EIFF 2019 runs 19th – 30th June, and earlier this week they announced their full programme. As I’ve previously highlighted, their Country Focus this year is Spain – so having seen the details of the full programme, I thought that I’d pick out five Spanish-related recommendations.
Apuntes para una película de atracos / Notes for a Heist Film (Elías León Siminiani, 2018)
This is on my list of Spanish films from last year that I want to catch up with both because I liked León Siminiani’s previous film (Mapa (2012), which likewise took the director as a central figure within the film, although that was more of a personal narrative), and also because it looks deadpan funny. It is not available on DVD, but it is on Filmin (without subtitles). Ticket details (two screenings).
Arrebato / Rapture (Iván Zulueta, 1979)
I’ve already made my love for this film clear in the past – I’ve not had the chance to see it on the big screen (and I can’t go to Edinburgh on the day that it’s screening), and would encourage anyone who will be at EIFF to get a ticket NOW. Out of all of the Spanish retrospective titles, this should be your priority. Ticket details (one screening).
La ciudad oculta / The Hidden City (Víctor Moreno, 2018)
I mentioned this one at the end of my 2018 round-up (which mainly detailed things that I hadn’t seen yet). Moreno’s previous film, Edificio España / The Building (2013) (which I wrote about at length here – and also recommend), captured the deconstruction (and intended refurbishment) of a skyscraping monument to Franco – this one appears to be the inverse, as he explores deep underground and the hidden realm under the city of Madrid. Longtime readers will know that I can’t resist films that explore unusual architectural spaces. Ticket details (two screenings).
Icíar Bollaín retrospective
Yes, I’m cheating here by picking a group of films rather than singling out one. Contrary to my initial impression when they first announced this retrospective, it does look like they are screening all of the feature films directed by Bollaín. I think that Te doy mis ojos / Take My Eyes (2003) is the best encapsulation of her career; it is not an easy watch (characteristically nothing is sugarcoated or simplified neatly to reassure audience expectations), but boasts two outstanding performances from Laia Marull and Luis Tosar. The bulk of Bollaín’s films are available on DVD with subtitles (some of them only as imports from Spain, but some have UK editions) and in those circumstances I tend to prioritise titles that aren’t available (or aren’t available with subtitles in a home viewing format), which in this case would point you to ¿Hola, estás sola? / Hi, Are You Alone? (1995 – Bollaín’s feature debut as a director) and Flores de otro mundo / Flowers from Another World (1999). Collectively the films illustrate Bollaín’s interest in the breadth of female experience, be that in family, love, or work – each film manages to encompass a range of lives and experiences, all looked at with compassion and solidarity. You can find ticket details for individual films by clicking on the titles on this summary page.
Shorts from Galicia
The Galician shorts included in the programme are:
Fajr (Lois Patiño, 2016)
Homes / Men (Diana Toucedo, 2016)
A liña política / The Policy Line (Santos Díaz, 2015)
Matria (Álvaro Gago, 2017)
A nena azul / The Blue Child (Sandra Sánchez, 2018)
Rapa das bestas / Wild Mane Crop (Jaione Camborda, 2017)
I have written about a selection of Galician shorts previously (in relation to Curtocircuito in 2015), and will happily recommend anything that features work by Lois Patiño sight-unseen – unfortunately I won’t be in Edinburgh on the day this programme screens, otherwise this would definitely be something I would attend. Ticket details (one screening). There is also a programme of contemporary Spanish short films, which will undoubtedly also be worth checking out – Spain has a rich culture of short filmmaking, and you can frequently encounter genuine innovation and experimentation within shorts in a way that doesn’t necessarily often get seen in relation to features.
I will be reviewing a few of the Spanish films for Eye for Film (I seem to own most of the retrospective titles on DVD), so expect further posts on Spanish films at EIFF next month.
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.
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.