Carlos Saura Challenge, Part 3: La caza / The Hunt (1966)

Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Carlos Saura and Angelino Fons
Cast: Ismael Merlo, Alfredo Mayo, José María Prada, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, Fernando Sánchez Polack, Violeta García.
Synopsis: Old ‘friends’ José, Paco, and Luis reunite after eight years for a day’s hunting, with Paco’s brother-in-law Enrique also enthusiastically tagging along. As the day wears on, old tensions become apparent and violence bubbles to the surface.

Link: My original post on the film, on the old version of the blog.

Generally considered Carlos Saura’s first masterpiece, La caza won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1966 (the director’s first international award) and is a landmark in Spanish cinema, one of the most representative films of what became known as Nuevo cine español [New Spanish Cinema]. It also marks a new stage in Saura’s career as the first of his collaborations with producer Elías Querejeta, and represents a stylistic leap on from Llanto por un bandido courtesy of Luis Cuadrado’s cinematography and the sharp editing of Pablo G del Amo (two members of Querejeta’s preferred team of technical crew).

Watching the film today – and cognisant of Saura’s continuous problems with the censor – it’s somewhat amazing that the film exists as it does. Set over the course of one scorching day as four men – former colleagues José (Ismael Merlo), Paco (Alfredo Mayo) and Luis (José María Prada), along with Paco’s brother-in-law, Enrique (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) – hunt rabbits in the arid countryside. The film takes place in a location (specified in titles at the start of the film) that had been a battlefield during the Civil War, and ‘the war’ (the censors ensured that the Civil War is not explicitly mentioned) permeates the narrative and the relations between the men (the older three served together). Saura cannily employs the landscape as a metonym for the psyches of those who survived the war: battle-scarred, with secrets and remnants of violence hidden in darker recesses. In The A-Z of Spanish Cinema, Alberto Mira observes that the use of metaphor and strong imagery ‘went beyond narrative needs: the heat that drives characters to madness could be read in terms of the stifling atmosphere created in the country after the Civil War, and the butchery was easily read as a reference to the conflict itself […]’ (2010: 71).

For the most part the film is realist in its depictions, but frequent extreme close-ups of sweating faces (a technique that also signals how claustrophobically trapped each man is in his own behaviour), weapons and ammunition – and of rabbits in their death throes – ramp up the tension and give a slightly surreal edge to proceedings. It’s almost a ‘heightened’ reality, as if the camera is feeling the effects of that relentless heat. It feels like a very modern film, not just visually but also in our access to the interiority of the characters, conveyed through their private thoughts in voiceover and also in having them break the fourth wall in moments of honesty and confrontation (although talking to each other, they individually face directly into the camera as they speak). Likewise their states of mind – or at least the unspoken animosity under the surface – is signalled early on via the editing in the sequence where the men are preparing their weapons: a series of shot-reverse-shots show Paco in extreme close-up checking his sites facing right, then cuts to an extreme close-up of José doing the same but facing left (making it appear that they could be aiming at each other). The sequence of shots then repeats before a mid-distance shot establishes their actual positions in relation to each other (sitting alongside one another facing in opposite directions).

Saura’s use of the implicit includes the casting of Alfredo Mayo, who had a particular set of associations for contemporaneous Spanish audiences. As Marvin D’Lugo explains in his book on Saura’s films:

‘As a young man, Mayo built his career upon a series of forties films playing the role of the stalwart Nationalist hero fighting the Republican scourge. By far, the most influential of these was the role of José Churruca in Sáenz de Heredia’s Raza. Not only did Mayo play the part of the nationalist patriot; his role was fashioned as a sanitised version of the Caudillo, replete with narrative parallels to Franco’s own biography. Nowhere in [La caza] is there any overt reference to Mayo’s former screen persona, yet implicitly, the character of Paco seems to represent a sequel to the earlier Alfredo Mayo, film-actor-as-national-hero. It is a shattering statement of the passage of time and the transformation of a bygone mythic hero into a venal and narcissistic old man.’ (1991: 57)

In contrast, as an outsider to this clique – and crucially of a younger generation – Enrique is at one remove from the associations generated by the older men. He therefore acts as witness, and audience proxy, when bitter resentments and disappointments finally cause a breakdown and the men turn on each other with spectacular violence. The film ends with a freeze frame of his face in profile – his panting still audible on the soundtrack – as he runs from the scene in horror.

References:
D’Lugo, M (1991) – The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mira, A. (2010) – The A to Z of Spanish Cinema, Plymouth: The Scarecrow Press.

Carlos Saura Challenge, Part 2: Llanto por un bandido / Lament for a Bandit (1964)

Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Carlos Saura and Mario Camus
Cast: Francisco Rabal, Lea Massari, Lino Ventura, Philippe Leroy, Manuel Zarzo, Agustín González, Fernando Sánchez Polack
Synopsis: 19th century Spain. The Spanish people have expelled the French but now have to deal with the unjust Fernando VII in their stead. A group of bandits led by ‘El Tempranillo’ garner a Robin Hood-like reputation by robbing only the rich, dealing fairly with normal people, and continuing to defy the King.

Link: My original post on the film, on the old version of the blog.

The reception of Los golfos had demonstrated that depicting the Spanish here-and-now was a sensitive issue with the dictatorship’s censors, but if Saura thought that delving into historical drama might allow him some leeway, he was mistaken: Llanto por un bandido (1964) was heavily cut. The opening sequence in particular has been mangled so heavy-handedly that I thought my DVD had jumped a chapter. Here Saura mischievously used playwright Antonio Buero Vallejo (who deployed symbolism in his own work to criticise the Franco regime) as the town-crier, while Luis Buñuel (persona non grata in Spain at this point due to Viridiana (1961)) cameos as an executioner preparing to execute the condemned men by garrotting.

Whether because of the gaps left by the ‘editing’ or my own lack of familiarity with the historical period, I didn’t really pick up on the political subtext with which Saura apparently imbued this tale of a bandit (‘El Tempranillo’, played by Paco Rabal) who acquires a certain level of political consciousness when he comes into contact with a fugitive liberal – the argument for ideological commitment was seen as provocative. To be honest, I took his defiance of the King to be your normal bandit behaviour rather than an indication of solidarity with the Constitutionalists – the character is generally a bit of a thuggish arsehole, so the association seemed to be one of expedience as opposed to ideological inclination.

Overall, it’s not really my sort of film – I also haven’t rewatched it since my original run of the Carlos Saura Challenge, and there isn’t much about it that has stuck with me.

However – aside from providing Saura with additional impetus to be more oblique when presenting politically contentious perspectives – there are a number of elements that are significant in terms of how Saura’s cinematic style developed. Saura’s evident eye for painterly allusions and compositions – which José Arroyo highlights in a post on the film – can be seen most obviously in the homage to Goya’s Duelo a garrotazos / Fight with Cudgels in the fight sequence between Rabal (who several decades later would play the artist for Saura in Goya en Burdeos (1999)) and Lino Ventura where, buried up to their knees, they batter each other with branches. There is also already a distinctive use of music. This is manifested in the way that sequences are either cut to the music or actions on camera are timed to follow the rhythm of the music (for example, in the Rabal/Ventura fight scene their blows fall in time) in a way that seems unusual (to me) for the time. But it is also very striking that the music is often diagetic, i.e. we see the music being performed onscreen within the scene, emphasising musical performance (and specifically the performance of traditional forms of music from Spain, most obviously flamenco) in a way that would become one of the director’s trademarks.

Carlos Saura Challenge, Part 1: Los golfos / The Delinquents (1962)

Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Carlos Saura, Mario Camus, Daniel Sueiro
Cast: Luís Marín, Oscar Cruz, Manuel Zarzo, Juanjo Losada, Ramón Rubio, Rafael Vargas, María Mayer.
Synopsis: A gang of juvenile delinquents pool their resources to pay for one of their number to be put on the bill of a bullfighting contest.

Link: My Eye for Film review from 2014.

Link: My original post about the film, on the old version of the blog.

To date, the only one of Carlos Saura’s 39 films that I have watched on the big screen is his directorial debut, Los golfos (1962). The film had long been unavailable in any home viewing format (I don’t think it has ever been released on DVD in Spain) and in my original run of the Carlos Saura Challenge, this was the 7th film I watched because – with no way of obtaining a copy – I’d had to skip it until a fortuitous screening at Manchester’s ¡Viva! Film Festival in 2014. A French DVD was released at the tail-end of 2013, but it has French subtitles only and was made with a far-from pristine print – as you can see from the images below.

The film shows a conscious effort to break away from the studio-set films of the time; wide establishing shots emphasise the urban setting, while domestic scenes play out in locations of palpable poverty and degradation. Unsurprisingly the film fell foul of the Spanish censor (its release was delayed for two years – and ten minutes was cut – after it was shown at Cannes in 1960) because the dreary backdrop builds into an implicit social critique, with the young protagonists (played by non-actors) fully aware that their social environment limits their prospects.

The excised footage appears to have been reinstated in the version I saw – at least there are no obvious gaps as there are in Saura’s subsequent film, Llanto por un bandido (1963) (which jumps about abruptly due to cuts). Although some of the editing choices cause sudden cuts, this would seem to have been deliberate on Saura’s part – to disrupt the ‘normal’ narrative form – rather than due to external tampering. At the time, productions had to go through ‘prior censorship’, the submission of their script before they could start shooting, and because the censors were not production specialists they usually focussed on the narrative form. Saura’s filmmaking to date had been in documentary – and he was not overly interested in questions of narrative – but you can see how the experience of going through major rewrites for Los golfos gave him ‘a deeper understanding of the ideological function of narrative as perceived in the censors’ minds’ (D’Lugo 1991: 33). Saura would subsequently move into a more opaque – or metaphorical – style of cinema, which made it more difficult for the censors to point to concrete elements for removal (although the director has said that this was not his primary motive for using metaphors, rather he had decided that he wanted to be more imaginative in the cinema he made), and with which he would make his name internationally.

There is not much in Los golfos that obviously connects to Saura’s later works besides a questioning of Spanish mythology (via bullfighting in this case) and a nascent interest in dance. The central narrative is that only one of the group has a skill that could prove to be their collective ticket out of there – Juan (Oscar Cruz) shows promise as a bullfighter, but is unable to afford the time to train or the exorbitant fee to enter an actual bullfight. On the prompting of senior member Ramón (Luís Marín), the gang agree to raise the money for Juan’s entrance fee through a series of ever more serious hustles and street robberies.

The robberies are carried out stylishly in the chiaroscuro shadows of a moving elevator or with sharp timing in the blazing sun of a parking lot – there is a slickness to these sequences that is difficult to square with other Saura films. However, the truck stop parking lot robbery reminded me of certain sections of La caza (1965); it’s something to do with the lighting (a blazing sun burns with a white heat that almost comes through the screen), but also the combination of that sharp timing with a certain economy of movement. Although Saura didn’t work with Elías Querejeta and his ‘house team’ (including acclaimed editor Pablo G. del Amo) until La caza, there is a kernel of something here that would blossom in that film. The perception that I’ve come across in my reading is that Saura managed to create his first masterpiece with La caza because he started working with Querejeta and Co. at that point, but the flashes of brilliance in Los golfos suggest that something was already forming.

In front of frame, Chato (Juanjo Losada) waits to give the signal to those outside, while Julian (Manuel Zarzo) is on lookout in the rear of frame. The truck driver is sitting at the table behind Chato.
Chato is looking at the parking lot where Ramón (Luís Marín – in the foreground) relays the signal to Manolo (Rafael Vargas – standing between the trucks), who in turn gives the signal to…
Paco (Ramón Rubio) who proceeds to break into the truck. Saura rapidly cuts between close-ups of each of the men, ramping up the tension.

References:
D’Lugo, M (1991) – The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

The Carlos Saura Challenge: 1962-1979

When I first decided to set myself the challenge of watching all of Carlos Saura’s films (back in 2013), the project had two purposes: to fill in a large gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema (I had only seen a handful of his films); to occupy myself while I was stuck in part-time employment (a situation I’d been in since graduating with my PhD in 2010). The idea had formed months earlier but it took me some time to track down access to the films (some are only available as VOD but I’m watching the majority on unsubtitled DVDs), and to work out whether I could get hold of enough of them as to make the challenge worthwhile. For a long time a lot of ‘classic’ Spanish films were unavailable in any kind of home viewing format (the label Divisa has been addressing this in the past few years); at this point Saura had 37 feature films to his name (that figure is now currently 39), some of which have never had a DVD release and many of those that had seemed to be OOP. After 6 months I had found/acquired 30 of the films, and so I started the initial run of the challenge in February 2013.

My initial intention of short posts on each film interspersed with longer pieces about groups of the films never really materialised, although I covered 6 of the films in the first couple of months. In May 2013 I finally managed to get a full-time job and I didn’t sustain any momentum with the challenge after that point – the gaps between posts got bigger and bigger, until I stopped altogether. This was partly to do with lack of time (and energy) but also a resistance to having the challenge turn into a chore (e.g. I would have had to watch 2 or 3 Saura films each month in order to stay on my original schedule, which was fine when I was part-time, but now that left very little time for watching anything else) – the enjoyment disappeared. The last time I wrote about a Saura film for the challenge (on the old blog) was in January 2015…and then I ground to a complete halt. But I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and obviously I now own almost all of the films (I have access to 38 of the 39 films – there is only one that I’ve been completely unable to track down).

But I wasn’t particularly motivated to re-start last year because – as I detailed in my end-of-year post – my interest in cinema generally plummeted, as did my enthusiasm for writing about films. I decided to take a break from blogging for the first half of this year. I can’t say that my enthusiasm has reignited but I don’t want to get completely out of the habit of writing (I did so in the aftermath of completing my PhD and it took me a long time to regain any feeling of dexterity with language or confidence in my own voice – a situation I have no wish to repeat). So I started thinking about the Carlos Saura Challenge again – could this be a way of getting back into writing more regularly? I started rewriting the original posts, rewatching some of the films when my memory wasn’t clear enough – rewriting seemed like a good way to ease myself back into writing without being confronted by a completely blank page. Posting as and when I’d watched and written about a film didn’t work the first time around, so my intention was to get everything written and then post all of it together over the course of 4-6 weeks, maybe towards the end of the year (the writing is more important than the publishing). Then doubt set in – am I just setting myself up for a fall given that I’ve always struggled with momentum on this project, and I’ve still only watched a third of the films?

The size of Saura’s filmography is slightly overwhelming – he has been working consistently for more than 50 years. Looking at a list of his films, I started to consider where I could draw possible lines of division to break them into smaller groups. The director has said that his films can be roughly divided into three categories: the ‘musical’ films (although, as he points out, music is important in all of his films); the fictional films; and films that he describes as ‘personal essays’ about figures who have inspired him (e.g. Buñuel and Goya). But I don’t want to divide them along thematic lines (and I’ll say now – as I did during the original run – that I’m not sure exactly how I will approach the musical/dance films because I lack both the technical expertise and vocabulary for those art forms). So rather than theme, or ‘phases’, I’ve gone with decades as the dividing lines: 1962-1979; 1980-1999; 2000-2017. The films don’t divide equally between those time periods (13, 17, and 9 respectively) but this was the simplest way to do it. I am sticking with my plan of writing everything for a given collection and then publishing it as a sequence over a number of weeks, but completing the whole thing this year is unrealistic; given the number of films in the 1980-1999 collection, that set will likely not appear on the blog until early 2018 (with 2000-2017 to probably follow by that summer).

But for the next fortnight, the 1962-1979 schedule is as follows:

  1. Los golfos / The Delinquents (1962) [Mon 3rd]
  2. Llanto por un bandido / Lament for a Bandit (1964) [Tues 4th]
  3. La caza / The Hunt (1966) [Wed 5th]
  4. Peppermint frappé (1967) [Thurs 6th]
  5. Stress es tres, tres / Stress is Three (1968) [Fri 7th]
  6. La madriguera / Honeycomb (1969) [Sat 8th]
  7. El jardín de las delicias / The Garden of Delights (1970) [Sun 9th]
  8. Ana y los lobos / Ana and the Wolves (1973) [Mon 10th]
  9. La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974) [Tues 11th]
  10. Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (1976) [Wed 12th]
  11. Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Love (1977) [Thurs 13th]
  12. Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes (1978) [Fri 14th]
  13. Mamá cumple 100 años / Mama Turns 100 (1979) [Sat 15th]

I will add links within the titles as the posts are published.

Watched in May

All watched at home on either DVD or VOD.

In relation to documentaries, I have discovered that PBS has a documentary strand called Independent Lens (it’s a bit like the BBC’s Storyville strand insofar as the films don’t appear to be specifically made for the channel), which puts films online for a limited time period after they’ve been broadcast – and they’re viewable outside of the U.S. One note of caution: they edit the films to fit a specific time slot – so although The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is 90 minutes, the version I watched was only an hour long. Still worth keeping an eye on though.

Also: where Doc Alliance has become a subscription service (you used to be able to rent individual films but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore – a subscription gets you access to everything on the site), they seem to have expanded their collection. I watched Deborah Stratman’s Illinois Parables on there but they also have films like The Event (Sergei Loznitsa, 2015) and Toponymy (Jonathan Perel, 2015) – and in many cases you have the option of paying to download a permanent copy of the film. I haven’t fully explored their catalogue yet, but if you’re into documentaries, I’d recommend taking a look.

Ramón Lluís Bande’s Equí y n’otru tiempu (2015) is available on subtitled DVD directly from the production company – here. Between 1937 and 1952, armed resistance to Franco continued in the Asturian mountains with many of the resistance fighters dying within that landscape. Bande’s film ‘proposes a cinematographic shift from the document to the monument, by filming in the present the places in which the major figures of the Asturian Guerrilla Group were killed’ (taken from the publicity material). I’m intending to watch his subsequent film – El nome de los árboles (2015) – which is available as VOD on Filmin. The 2nd film forms a diptych with the 1st, this time switching to oral history as the witness testimonies of those events need to be captured before they disappear from living memory.

The Carlos Saura Challenge: I had a fit of enthusiasm, rewatched a couple of the films and watched two others for the first time. I’ve re-written the nine posts that were part of the original run of the challenge on the old blog, and also written a completely new one for an early film that wasn’t available then…and then I thought “You’re still not even a third of the way through his filmography!” and got a bit disheartened. I had seen it as a possible way of kickstarting getting back into the habit of writing again, although – given that I’ve always struggled with momentum on this particular project – maybe that’s not a good strategy. I don’t want to give up but was thinking that simply watching the films would have to be my way of completing it because writing about them as well ends up making it into (what feels like) an epic endeavour but also something of a chore.

However, having mulled it over, I think I’ve found a way of breaking it down into stages of a more manageable size. I’m going to divide his filmography into three almost-equal periods: 1962-1979; 1980-1999; 2000-2017. I am aware that the first period might be better to end in 1981 (which is when he ended his run of thirteen films with Elías Querejeta) but 1979 represents his last film (of eight) with Geraldine Chaplin – and I’m not actually arguing that these are ‘phases’ in his career (the break with Querejeta is a dividing line in that respect); I just want to divide the time span up, and grouping by decade seems easiest. I need to write about Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Love and Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes but that then leaves me only one film away from completing the first period (Mamá cumple 100 años / Mama Turns 100 is the one I haven’t watched yet). So I’m intending to have a fortnight dedicated to Saura’s 1962-1979 films probably in early July (I’ve got other things going on this month), with a post on each of the thirteen films from those years. I will then move on to watching and writing about sixteen of the seventeen films (one is completely unavailable) from 1980-1999 (the films aren’t equally shared between the periods, but there’s not much I can do about that) with the intention of posting that collection over two weeks towards the end of the year – but there’s obviously a strong chance that it’ll be early next year instead. I won’t give an ETA on the last period until I know how long the middle one takes (only nine films in the last collection at the moment – Saura’s still making films – so that should feel easy-peasy in comparison). Dividing the thirty-nine (and counting!) films into smaller collections feels more do-able.

Watched in February

watched_feb

Plus, Mining Poems or Odes (Callum Rice, 2016) [a short film – free to view on Vimeo].

I’ve decided that I should continue watching films for the Carlos Saura Challenge even if I’m not currently writing (this may mean that I end up reshaping the project, but I’ll cross that bridge later – better to persevere in some form than give it up), hence my watching his two most recent films.

If you’re interested in Spanish language films, Festival Scope is currently showing a selection of films from FICUNAM 2017 (all free to view until 13th March) – expect at least a couple to appear in my equivalent post next month.

Update: Carlos Saura Challenge

Carlos Saura Challenge

I am changing my tactics in relation to working my way through Carlos Saura’s filmography. I ground to a halt more than a year ago having originally started in 2013 but only having watched 10 of his films (around 25% of his entire career). I have since watched a couple more but haven’t written about them – I think I need to have a time constraint involved in order to keep going but not one so rigid that it becomes a routine chore. I also think that what I’ve done to date has been written over such an elongated period of time that I would be better to start again from the beginning with a different format. What I have in mind is similar to the Almodóvarthon I had on the old blog in August 2011 with something published on each of the films in a concentrated time frame – but, given that Saura has made almost twice as many films as Almodóvar, realistically it will need to be spread over longer than one month (maybe 5 – 6 weeks). It will take me several months to watch all of the films and write something about each of them so that they can be posted sequentially within the designated weeks. Longtime readers will know that my place of employment goes through some sort of managerial disruption virtually every summer, so – taking that into consideration – November seems like a reasonable month to aim for (all other non-blog circumstances permitting). [UPDATE: events referred to in this post mean that November will not be possible – so it will likely be in early 2017 instead]

UPDATE (June 2017): I have reconsidered how I’m going to approach the challenge – outlined in the second half of this post.

Five Years

An image from the finale of Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999)
Image from the finale of Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999)

It is exactly five years since I first started writing on my original Nobody Knows Anybody blog (the picture above was the first header image). I have been unsure of how to mark the occasion given that I stopped writing there (and started this new incarnation) last August when I discovered that the full contents of the site had been ‘scraped’ by a third party. I’ve ended up writing a brief goodbye post there today (it is contained within an image so that it cannot be overwritten). For the past five months I’ve only posted on the original blog when I’ve written about Spanish cinema (the original site focused exclusively on Spanish cinema) for another place – e.g. reviewed a Spanish film or written a festival report that included Spanish works – and in those instances I have simply posted the link with minimal details. I don’t think that there’s much point continuing with that, so now it’s best to just draw a line under it and move on.

That said, while I initially stated that I wouldn’t be reposting old writing on here, I now find myself in two minds on that issue. I had considered choosing a piece of writing from each year and reposting it here (possibly updating certain things) as a way of marking the five years. However, when I went back through the longer pieces, I found that they were a bit like time capsules – you (or I, at least) can see my writing develop from my initial struggles to get away from a more academic mindset (something that I acknowledged or referred to within a lot of the earlier pieces because I was also using the blog to reflect on my writing processes), to becoming more comfortable with expressing my own opinion without recourse to half a dozen other writers to support my argument / point of view. I don’t really want to go backwards. I don’t agree with everything that I’ve written in the past but I also don’t feel the need to rewrite it – it is what it is and reflects where I was at the time. I also think that some of the writing would seem odd in isolation, taken out of its original context (where you can see what else I was writing about in the same period). So that idea bit the dust.

On the other hand, there are certain posts that I would like to ‘take with me’ – either because they’re part of something that I haven’t finished yet, or things that I’d like to revisit (here I’m thinking specifically of the two ‘anatomy of a scene’ posts [on La madre muerta and Los lunes al sol] where I used multiple still images to try and convey either gesture or camera movement – I’m wondering whether I could redo them with gifs?), or a few about films that I really connected with. All of these posts were original pieces written specifically for the blog – i.e. I am not talking about the posts that I adapted from my PhD thesis. I think initially this would not involve more than half a dozen posts, plus the Carlos Saura ones (although that challenge has dragged on for so long that those posts are a sequence where you can see a definite change in my writing over time – I may rewrite some of the earlier ones). If I actually find the time to get properly back into my ‘el otro cine español’ / Spanish documentary project, then there are possibly a few more pieces that I would revisit and rewrite rather than just reposting – but I’ll only do that if I feel that I’m going to have the time to invest in that project.

The ‘blog birthday’ posts are also usually where I outline plans for the coming year in terms of what I want to write about. My year has got off to a slow start because I haven’t been very well but I’m hoping that the worst is over with and I can start organising myself again. The AV Festival takes place in my home city between 27th February – 27th March. For that reason, my February and March will mainly be taken up with that (I have a lot of the films involved on DVD, so I’ll be watching some of them before the festival begins). With that in mind – and so as not to annoy people by posting all of the stuff from the old blog within the space of a week – I think I’ll start by posting one older piece each week, to spread it out. The ‘anatomy of a scene’ ones may have to wait a bit longer because I don’t know that I’ll have enough free time to sort out the images within that timescale. But given that I won’t be attempting to restart the Carlos Saura Challenge until after the AV Festival, the reposting/rewriting of those posts could also present a lead in to that. My AV Festival coverage will begin soon.

Last year I managed to attend two film festivals abroad and two in the UK. Travelling abroad is unlikely to be financially viable for me this year (unless I find another opportunity like the one that took me to Gijón) but I’ve been looking at a broader range of possible UK festivals. For example, the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival in Manchester is returning to its normal format this year (it was divided into three weekends at different times of the year in 2015), which may mean that a trip to Manchester is a) feasible and b) worthwhile (that is obviously also dependent on what they programme). Beyond that I should manage Edinburgh and Berwick again…..and I’ve noted down some other possibilities for the second half of the year as well. Other writing plans? I want to write something about the Spanish documentaries (mentioned here – and the Edificio España piece that I refer to within that post is one of the ones that I want to relocate here), I’m intending to write about two films – África 815 and La sombra – from the last two Márgenes online festivals that I think have interesting parallels, I’m mulling over an idea in relation to Life May Be but need a decent stretch of free time to properly explore it, oh and a certain man from La Mancha has a new film out this year (scheduled for release in the UK at the end of August) – I don’t think I’ll be able to do something as full on as the Almodóvarthon that I did in 2011 (I was only working PT then), but I would hope to do something about Pedro at that point. That seems like a decent schedule to be getting on with for the time being.

Further Adventures in the Carlos Saura Challenge

an image of the Carlos Saura Challenge recorded in my notebook

The Carlos Saura Challenge began in February 2013 as a way of addressing a gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema; I was familiar with Cría cuervos and the dance films, but I hadn’t seen any of the other films from Saura’s substantial career. I have made intermittent progress – my initial aim of watching all 37 of his films in the space of a year proved to be wildly unrealistic, but my viewings ground to a halt for months at a time on several occasions. Attempting to watch them chronologically was possibly a mistake – although you can see themes developing by considering them in that order – and in fact I have ended up looping back a couple of times because earlier films that were unavailable suddenly appeared on VOD or another format (his directorial debut – Los golfos / The Delinquents – was shown on 35mm as part of the Viva! film festival in Manchester in early 2014).
I have been surprised by how much I like his early films. Through necessity (to avoid the censor during the dictatorship) many of the early films are metaphorical – which can be something that I find irritating – but whereas I had been under the impression that Saura made very dry and dour films in that period, I found a mischievous sense of humour and someone who (along with producer Elías Querejeta, with whom he made a run of 13 films starting with La caza / The Hunt in 1966) had clearly done his damnedest to foil those who were restricting what could be put on Spanish screens. Censors often failed to appreciate that suggestion can be more powerful and more resonant than a direct depiction. There are also some great performances from José Luis López Vázquez (who I had previously only seen in comedic roles) and Geraldine Chaplin (a revelation) in those early films, most of them probably little known outside of Spain because they haven’t been commercially available in subtitled form (most of the DVDs that I have tracked down do not have subtitles).
I restarted again in January this year with Cría cuervos (the status of which had been putting me off writing about it) and then went backwards to watch La madriguera / Honeycomb. And then I stopped again. So basically I’ve reached the 1970s, I am 10 films into his career (barely a quarter of the way through his total filmography) and currently in a run of films where Geraldine Chaplin gets put through the mill (I’ve got 3 more films to go before they romantically and professionally parted company from what is an actor-director partnership – they made 8 films together – that merits greater critical attention). Next up will be Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Life with Chaplin and Fernando Rey – I’m going to aim to cover that at some point during September.

film posters for the Saura films watched to date
I’m going to recap the films I’ve written about so far (and link to where I’ve written about them) and list the ones still to come. I usually list things Spanish title / English title the first time I refer to them – if the English title is in square brackets, it’s a literal translation as there is no official English language title. If a title in the list below has ‘VOD’ next to it that means that VOD is currently the only way to view it (click on ‘VOD’ to be taken to where it’s available – Filmin subscriptions can only be purchased within Spain but Filmotech allows you to pay 7€ for a month and watch almost anything on the site), ‘+VOD’ signifies that means that it is also in circulation on DVD, and nothing next to the title means DVD only (many of them are OOP but I’ve indicated if a film is completely unavailable – i.e. no DVD that I’m aware of). Cría cuervos, Blood Wedding, Carmen, El amor brujo, and Tango all have UK DVDs available. The majority of the other films were OOP but Enrique Cerezo’s current crusade to make Spanish cinema classics more readily available (Spanish DVDs always seem to have very limited runs and some disappear very quickly – I acquired most of my Saura DVDs secondhand) means that a few of the Saura/Querejeta collaborations (and some of the director’s later films including El Dorado and ¡Ay, Carmela!) are now available on DVD and Bluray in restored, no-frills editions (no English subtitles as far as I know) through the Divisa label.
01. Los golfos / The Delinquents (1962) [French DVD only] +VOD. Saura’s directorial debut but one that I saw out of sequence because it had long been unavailable in any format. A French DVD (with French subs only) was released in 2013 but I had the chance to see the film on 35mm at Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival in Manchester in 2014 – to date it is the only one of Saura’s films that I have seen on the big screen.
02. Llanto por un bandido / Lament for a Bandit (1964). Heavily censored at the time of its original release, the version I’ve seen suffers from the censor’s interventions. A lesser film in Saura’s filmography although – as with Los golfos – there are already certain elements that will recur throughout his career. It also contains Francisco (Paco) Rabal on scenery-chewing form, Lino Ventura, and a cameo by Luis Buñuel.
03. La caza / The Hunt (1966) +VOD (VOD includes an English subtitle option). Saura’s first masterpiece.
04. Peppermint frappé (1967) +VOD. The most Almodóvarian of Saura’s films (predating the man from La Mancha by several decades) and the first of his collaborations with Geraldine Chaplin (who here plays three women) and José Luis López Vázquez.
05. Stress-es tres-tres / Stress is Three (1968) [unavailable]
06. La madriguera / Honeycomb (1969) VOD. Chaplin again takes on multiple personalities in this blurring of performance, role play, dreams, and reality.
07. El jardin de las delicias / The Garden of Delights (1970). The blurring of dream and reality seen in La madriguera is kicked up a notch in this darkly funny (with a brilliant performance by López Vázquez) and structurally complicated film – the complex intricacy of the structure acted as a smokescreen to distract the censor from some of the more political elements.
08. Ana y los lobos / Ana and the Wolves (1973) +VOD. Chaplin stars alongside Fernando Fernán Gómez in a film where a sense of uneasy foreboding builds to a dark and horrific payoff.
09. La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974) +VOD. This is probably López Vázquez’s best performance for Saura (although he is never less than great across all of their collaborations) and it is my favourite of the films I’ve watched so far – it deserves to be better known outside of Spain.
10. Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (1976) +VOD. Probably the director’s best-known film in the UK. Fiona Noble also wrote a guest post about it for the old site.
Still to come…
11. Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Life (1977) +VOD (VOD includes an English subtitle option).
12. Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes (1978) VOD.
13. Mamá cumple 100 años / [Mama Turns 100] (1979).
14. Deprisa, deprisa / Faster, Faster (1981) +VOD.
15. Bodas de sangre / Blood Wedding (1981).
16. Dulces horas / [Sweet Hours] (1982) [unavailable].
17. Antonieta (1982) [French DVD only].
18. Carmen (1983).
19. Los zancos / [The Stilts] (1984).
20. El amor brujo (1986).
21. El Dorado (1988) +VOD.
22. La noche oscura / [The Dark Night] (1989).
23. ¡Ay, Carmela! (1990) +VOD.
24. Sevillanas (1992).
25. ¡Dispara! / Outrage (1993).
26. Flamenco (1995).
27. Taxi (1996).
28. Pajarico / [Little Bird] (1997).
29. Tango (1998) +VOD.
30. Goya en Burdeos / Goya in Bordeaux (1999) +VOD.
31. Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón / Buñuel and King Solomon’s Table (2001).
32. Salomé (2002).
33. El séptimo día / The Seventh Day (2004) +VOD.
34. Iberia (2005) +VOD.
35. Fados (2007).
36. Io, Don Giovanni / I, Don Giovanni (2010).
37. Flamenco, Flamenco (2010) +VOD.
38. Argentina (2015) [due to premiere at the Venice Film Festival].