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.
One of my favourite short films from the last few years has been put up on Vimeo by its director. I saw Lois Patiño’s Montaña en sombra / Mountain in Shadow on the massive IMAX screen at the Bradford International Film Festival in 2014 where it accompanied Patiño’s feature debut, Costa da Morte / Coast of Death – in my 5-star review of the latter, I mention the short in the last paragraph. I feel privileged to have seen it in an ideal viewing environment originally, but it’s also nice to have the opportunity to watch it again (even on a small screen).
As I’ve already said, I didn’t manage to go to Santiago de Compostela for Curtocircuíto but the festival gave me access to most of the films in the competitive categories. Besides the films that I reviewed for Eye for Film (and some films that I saw in Edinburgh earlier this year – Scrapbook (Mike Hoolboom, 2015), I Am a Spy (Sarah Wood, 2015), and Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (Tomonari Nishikawa, 2014)), the standouts for me included World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 2015) [which is available to rent on Vimeo], The Liquid Casket / Wilderness of Mirrors (Paul Clipson, 2014), Embargo (Johann Lurf, 2014), Paisaje con perro roto / Landscape With Broken Dog (Orazio Leogrande, 2014), Tehran-Geles (Arash Nassiri, 2014), Descubrimiento de Américo / Discovery of Américo (Miguel Mariño, 2014), and Historia Cerebro / Brain Story (Borja Santomé, 2015).
The latter two films were part of a collection of Galician shorts and given that I’ve been considering the Novo Cinema Galego recently, I decided to focus my festival report on films from that section – my report can be found at Eye for Film. I specifically focussed on Cruz Piñón (Xisela Franco, 2015), Hyohakusha, caminante sin rumbo / Hyohakusha, Aimless Wanderer (Xisela Franco and Anxela Caramés, 2015), and Volontè (Marcos Flórez, Helena Girón, Rafa Mallo, Roberto Mallo, Miguel Prado, Lucas Vázquez de la Rubia, Lucía Vilela, 2015). My choice of films was based on the connections that I could make between them but the collection as a whole illustrated the diversity of cinema being made in Galicia.
I have been covering Curtocircuíto from home in North East England rather than venturing to North West Spain – covering festivals from home always feels slightly fraudulent, as if I’m cheating, but travel and accommodation are costly aspects of going to film festivals and so on this occasion I had to be practical and forgo the festival atmosphere and focus on the films. The festival very kindly gave me access to most of the programme (the line-up can be found here), and I have managed to watch a fair range of what was on offer (and I may yet also delve into the filmography of Jørgen Leth – subject of a retrospective – because I’ve discovered that a lot of his films are available on DocAlliance). I will be writing a report on the festival this week (probably with a focus on the Galician films, given that Novo Cinema Galego is an interest of mine), which I will link to on here once it is up. In the meantime, I’ve written a round-up of the award winners.
I have also reviewed five of the films from across the programme – as usual, links to be added once they are online:
Becoming Anita Ekberg (Mark Rappaport, 2014) – an essay film (or film essay?) exploring the formation of Ekberg’s star image.
In the Distance (Florian Grolig, 2015) – an animated take on isolation in time of war.
Ulterior (Sabrina Muhate, 2014) – an essay film on death and life and our bodies in those states. Unnerving (although admittedly I am squeamish) but I think that this is a director with her own voice (and eye).
Back in early 2014 I started what could loosely be termed a ‘project’ to explore the phenomenon that was being labelled el otro cine español [the other Spanish cinema] by certain quarters of the specialist Spanish press. My starting point was this list of 52 filmmakers published by Caimán Cuadernos de Cine in August 2013. From the outset I said that I had some issues with how the list had been compiled, and as I started watching the films I found it to be an increasingly nebulous term that was attempting to corral an unwieldy and disparate group of people. By July 2014 I had decided that the documentaries would be the best place to start – and so I set off, in quite a haphazard way, mainly watching (rather than writing about) those recent(ish) Spanish documentaries that could be said to fall into this otro cine español category (everything I’ve written so far on the topic can be found here).
To be honest, in the second half of 2014 / start of 2015 I got distracted by documentaries and essay films more generally (irrespective of nationality) – this coincided with increased attention being paid to documentaries in the film press (or was it just that my attention had increased and therefore I noticed more writing on the subject?) including Sight & Sound‘s documentary poll, so there was a lot to be distracted by – which is why there is a ‘documentary’ category in the menu of this new site. I wandered off track and lost focus (or redirected my focus because I knew I was going to the D’A Festival in April and therefore I wanted to look at how they had ‘promoted’ the idea of el otro cine español as a kind of movement through a strand of the 2014 festival programme called ‘Un impulso colectivo‘). In relation to the Spanish documentaries, so far the only substantial piece I’ve written was the standalone post on Edificio España (Víctor Moreno, 2013). I have an idea for something I want to write about a particular group of Spanish documentaries (specifically those that have sought to address the financial crisis and its social impact in Spain), but there are a couple more films that I want to watch first – Pablo Llorca’s recent diptych El gran salto adelante / The Great Leap Forward (2014) and País de todo a 100 / The Palace Without Stairs (2014) (the first is fiction, the latter a documentary) and ReMine: El último movimiento obrero / ReMine: The Last Working Class Movement (Marcos M. Merino, 2014). I have all three films – I just need to actually watch them and then work out how / if they fit with ones I’ve already seen. I had planned to write this in August but the combination of things going on at work and moving online sites has scuppered that, so it will have to continue fluttering around my mind for the time being.
So, anyway, I had lost my focus. But in addition to that, what I observed in Barcelona also made me question whether this otro cine español was a real movement or simply a convenient tag to apply to filmmakers who are working outside of the industrial norm in Spain. Branding of a sort – which has its own uses for the filmmakers in question if they can travel as a group – but a very loose wrapper to bind together some filmmakers who are actually quite distinct from each other in terms of the films they are making. Interestingly, the people I interviewed in Barcelona seemed just as uncertain as to whether they were part of an actual phenomenon or if it is only the latest incarnation of an ongoing occurrence that had (for a range of reasons) gained more press attention in the past couple of years. While I was pondering that, I also interviewed Xurxo Chirro in relation to Iberodocs’s ‘Focus on Galicia’ and his description of el otro cine español as being like an archipelago where filmmakers either work alone or in small clusters (rather than a larger, coherent movement) made a lot of sense to me – because some of those clusters (the filmmakers included in (Im)Possible Futures at the D’A Festival, those who form the Novo Cinema Galego [New Galician Cinema], and arguably some groups associated with certain film schools) are clearly apparent within the more unwieldy mass. That’s where I’d got up to in May – then I went to EIFF, the annual upheaval kicked off at work (note to self: your name is on here now), and so on. I’ve not got much further than considering the concept from that angle. I said in May that I wanted to write the documentary piece first before changing my approach to el otro cine español (documentaries will still be part of that mix, but I think that approaching individual clusters of filmmakers will be a more fruitful way of tackling the topic). I’m now intending to watch the three remaining films mentioned above (and give more thought to drawing those documentaries together for something) but I’m also just going to get started on looking at the archipelago. I will start with the Novo Cinema Galego because I have already seen almost all of the key films by that group of filmmakers. I’ll give my usual caveat – it won’t appear instantaneously because I tend to mull things over until I reach some undefined magical point of enlightenment, but also because there are potentially 2-3 film festivals in September and October that I’m interested in (depending on their programmes) so they will have to be factored in to my schedule. But I’m happy to have a new trail to start down.