Iberodocs 2016

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The 3rd edition of Iberodocs takes place in Edinburgh later this week from Wednesday 4th – Sunday 8th and there is plenty in their programme to recommend. Of the films I’ve seen, I’d recommend Llévate mis amores (which was my favourite documentary at last year’s EIFF), O Futebol and No Cow on the Ice – and also the shorts Ser e voltar (which is paired with the latter feature – both are by Galician filmmakers) and Sin Dios ni Santa María (which appears in the main shorts programme) – but I’ve also heard good things about Rio Corgo and Volta à terra, so I think that the festival is pretty jam-packed with things worth seeing. I have previously reviewed (in relation to different festivals) three of the films that are being shown and I have written another three this past weekend. I will add the links below as they are published over at Eye for Film.

These are likely to be my last reviews for a while, but I hope to get back to writing on here regularly.

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 (May 2017): It’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll continue the challenge in the manner I intended – i.e. to write something about each film, and then post everything sequentially over a number of weeks. The challenge came about because I wanted to address what felt like a big gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema, given the length and variety of Saura’s career. I am continuing to work my way through the films – and have already rewritten the original 9 posts, plus 1 completely new one – but I think that I have to accept that watching and writing are two separate things, and that watching the 39 films may have to stand as the fulfilment of the challenge (rather than writing an individual analysis of each of them). I had thought that I could use the framework of the challenge to get myself back into the habit of writing but now think that re-starting a (large) project with which I previously didn’t manage to maintain momentum is probably not an advisable tactic. I may end up writing something about clusters of the films – because there are definite groupings within Saura’s filmography – but for the time being I’m going to draw a line under my original aim, and just continue watching as an end in itself.

Review: Beautiful Youth (Jaime Rosales, 2014)

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Desistfilm‘s 10th issue – titled ‘From the Pixel to the Glitch: Foundation, materiality and fictions’ – has arrived online today. It’s an exploration of the use of digital media in experimental film or how digital media is used by filmmakers to experiment with different textures and formats. Mónica Delgado (editor of desistfilm) writes that:

In this issue we want to explore about digital media and its variations in experimental cinema as variations of this media. How can digital texture open new paths in cinema opposed to analog cinema? How are the so called internet artists working the digital media? How about the glitch art or impressionist digital art? But we’re also interested to explore films about certain technologies and their expressions: glitch, memes, gifs, which circulate in Twitter or Facebook… how are they material to talk about youth sensibility in the new century? From intimate drama to wacky horror cinema, digital media from its materiality and virtuality in fiction.

I haven’t had the chance to take a proper look yet but there are four central articles in the dossier and an assortment of other related articles, profiles and interviews throughout the site. There is also a reviews section, which is where my own small contribution can be found. I have reviewed Hermosa juventud / Beautiful Youth (Jaime Rosales, 2014), which doesn’t initially have much to overtly connect it with desistfilm‘s thematic focus but the film undergoes a dramatic stylistic shift about halfway through wherein Rosales adopts an innovative approach to depicting the ‘digital generation’. My review is here.

 

Reprint: La madre muerta / The Dead Mother (Juanma Bajo Ulloa, 1993)

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This is another in what will be a series of ‘reprints’ of posts that were on the old blog. I have edited / partially rewritten this one (and played around with the images) but the original from March 2011 can be found here. I wrote two posts about La madre muerta on the old blog, and the other one – an ‘anatomy of a scene’ post that looks very closely at a specific set piece from early in the film – is also likely to be revisited on here at some point.

Director: Juanma Bajo Ulloa
Screenplay: Juanma and Eduardo Bajo Ulloa
Cast: Karra Elejalde, Ana Álvarez, Lio, Silvia Marsó
Synopsis: During a burglary, Ismael (Elejalde) casually murders a woman and shoots her young daughter, Leire. Fifteen years later, Leire (Álvarez) is mute and has the mental age of a three-year-old. By chance Ismael sees Leire in the street and becomes convinced that she can recognise him. He decides to kidnap her…

‘La madre muerta is the story of a killer without scruples who steals chocolate from a little girl, and of how the little girl takes back the chocolate from her (now) victim years later’ –Juanma Bajo Ulloa (DVD booklet [my translation])

I first watched La madre muerta more than fifteen years ago on a Tartan Video VHS*. The scenes / aspects that I remembered most strongly before I revisited the film were: the prologue (the burglary); the scene in which Ismael tries to kidnap Leire and knocks himself out with the chloroform he has prepared for her grandmother (this is the set piece that forms the basis of the other post mentioned above); the ‘Aguadilu’ scene where Ismael pretends to be a clown to try to make Leire laugh; the intrepid investigating nurse hiding down the side of the wardrobe; and the image of Leire chained to the bed with a dog collar. Watching the DVD, I was surprised that I had no memory whatsoever of the early scene in the bar, which is incredibly violent and nasty (leaving us in no doubt, if we had any after the prologue, that Ismael is capable of anything). But perhaps the other scenes stuck in my mind because they are unsettling in a subtler fashion.

From the beginning of the film director Juanma Bajo Ulloa plays with both genre conventions and perspectives – i.e. the (physical) angle from which we view events is used to radically alter our perception of what we have seen – to continually wrongfoot the viewer. As Mark Allinson observes, the prologue has all the hallmarks of a thriller and the viewer’s ‘generic expectations’ (2003: 147) initially cause us to think that the woman we see being woken up by the intruder’s noise will be the protagonist of the film. But we barely have time to register the woman’s presence in the same room as the intruder – we hear her, rather than see her (she says “No hay dinero” [“There is no money”]) – before the intruder raises and fires the shotgun, and the woman (and mother of the title) drops to the floor (Ismael steps over her with barely a glance). Allinson suggests that our assumptions then turn to the possibilities of the investigative crime thriller, but that is also not to be – and the character who later thinks that she is in a detective film (Blanca – played by Silvia Marsó) does not triumph in her endeavours (Bajo Ulloa chirpily comments on the audio-commentary at the ‘end’ of that narrative strand that “in real life, the good don’t win” [my translation]).

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In Sight & Sound, Leslie Felperin pointed out that ‘throughout the film, an edit or a camera angle obscures a view’ (1996: 46) with the intention of making events and motivations ambiguous; there are several sequences in the film where the camera takes on a character’s POV in such a way that the viewer is misled. The most infamous of these is the sequence where Blanca – the nurse who cares for Leire at the medical daycare clinic – breaks into the house to rescue Leire but then finds herself trapped. She hides down the side of the wardrobe in the room where Leire is chained to the bed. When Ismael enters the room, the camera continually returns to Blanca’s POV. Initially she cannot see him but leans forward when she hears a zip being undone and sees Ismael’s back as he stands alongside the bed, with Leire kneeling on the bed in front of him: from Blanca’s POV it looks as if Ismael is forcing Leire to perform oral sex on him. The camera then cuts to what is effectively Leire’s POV (in front of Ismael) and – in a darkly comic ‘reveal’ – the audience sees that he has been surreptitiously feeding her a bar of chocolate (both of them have a sweet tooth) that is hidden in the front of his jacket (the source of the zip noise). As Leire sits back on the bed and Ismael takes a seat, we then see a shot of Maite’s (Ismael’s girlfriend, played by Lio) eye at the doorframe – she is seeing the same scene in a mirror angle to Blanca (she is also behind Ismael but on his other side). Both women then clearly see Leire eating chocolate and come to the same conclusion as to what has transpired out of their line of sight (they take the chocolate to be a ‘reward’ – both mutter “hijo de puta”, although for slightly different reasons).

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That sequence not only misleads the viewer for a comic payoff but also plays on the deep unease felt by the audience on account of the ambiguous ‘attraction’ that Leire holds for Ismael. When he goes in search of her (after his accidental sighting), his initial perspective is through a hedge and the above shot encapsulates how Ismael treats Leire as something to be looked at and watched – the framing through the gap in the hedge gives the image a peep show quality. Likewise, Maite also finds the manner in which Ismael watches Leire to be disquieting – she becomes increasingly jealous and questions Ismael’s feelings for the girl when she discovers him asleep in a chair opposite Leire’s bed. His excuse (he was worried Leire might escape) leads Maite to suggest chaining her up, which only increases the tension: as Nigel Floyd said in his review, ‘the fact that Leire, a helpless child trapped in a woman’s body, is fetishistically manacled to a bed lends a dangerous, almost perverse erotic edge to some scenes’. This comes to a head in the ‘Aguadilu’ scene where Ismael tries to make Leire laugh – he is preoccupied throughout the film by the fact that she does not smile or laugh – by putting on silly voices, making noises and painting his face like a clown. In a somewhat desperate final attempt, he decides to tickle her during which he grabs her breast, an action that was innocently intended (consciously, at least) but which visibly shocks him because he is confronted by the fact that Leire may have the mind of a child – and Álvarez’s performance of wide-eyed wonderment during the sequence is brilliantly observed – but she has the body of a woman. Although she has previously shocked him by returning his gaze – in a second sequence where he looks at her through the hedge at the clinic, a noise attracts her attention and she looks straight at him (in response, he runs off) – this scene is the first time that he acknowledges to himself that he views her as something more than a child (he furtively looks over his shoulder after he touches her breast, as if someone might catch him in the act – also an acknowledgement that what he’s doing is wrong) and also as something more than a hostage. He looks at her sadly, and then moves away from her: he is unable to look at his own reflection when he sits back down in his normal chair / observation post, and he slams the mirrored wardrobe door shut.

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That he is given a moment of self-awareness is an illustration of the film’s humane treatment of its characters; although Ismael is not allowed off the hook, he is offered the chance of redemption. The film has a fairytale quality – something that it shares with two of Bajo Ulloa’s other films (Alas de mariposa / Butterfly Wings (1991) and Frágil / Fragile (2004)) – but Ismael is allowed to be something other than just a monster. Karra Elejalde’s performance is central to this. In an introductory piece in the DVD booklet, director Nacho Vigalondo – who cast Elejalde in his directorial debut, Los cronocrímenes / Timecrimes (2007) – describes the actor and his performance as “creating a character that, like the rest of the film, is a balancing act between ‘costumbrismo’ [something very specifically local] and impossible cliché, summed up in the red painted face that is as much circus-like as it is demonic. Your father’s friend, and an extraterrestrial. At the same time” (my translation). Bajo Ulloa says on the audio-commentary that his main problem after writing the script was finding the right actors to play the two central roles. Álvarez is outstanding as Leire, and utterly believable as the child trapped in a woman’s body (you do not see her ‘acting’ at any point), but Elejalde has to walk a tightrope of charm and menace while also carrying off some darkly comic sequences. The film was not warmly received by Spanish critics (the El País review – here – is so scathing that it will make you wince), but the English reviews that I have found (in Sight & Sound [not available online – but in the March 1996 issue], Time Out and Empire) took a more positive view of the unsettling combination of the tender and the twisted that the film manages to pull together through plot, character, and performance.

*There is no UK DVD but the re-mastered 3-disc ‘edición coleccionista’ – released in Spain in 2008 – has optional English subtitles for the film.

Reprint: Aita (José María de Orbe, 2010)

As I mentioned last week, over the course of the next month or so I’m planning to (re)post some pieces that were written for the original Nobody Knows Anybody blog. It was only really in late 2013 that I started to be happier with my writing – almost all of the pieces that I’m planning to reuse were written in 2014 or later. I will be rewriting/editing some of them, but this one is actually untouched (it was originally published in February 2014) apart from the fact that I’ve taken the opportunity to learn how to make GIFs and have replaced some of the original images accordingly. The only thing that I’ve changed my mind about in relation to Aita is in the penultimate paragraph – I don’t think that the bedroom within the footage is necessarily the room that the image is projected in, but because the way in which one image flickers over the top of the other that was how it seemed to me on first viewing.

The film relates to my recurring fascination with architectural spaces that are presented as repositories for memories, or that otherwise have their history written into the fabric of their construction (a theme that will reappear in a couple of the other posts that I’m planning to revisit), but its play of light and shadow also results in a magical and slightly otherworldly film (and one of my favourites that I’ve seen in the course of writing the blog).

 

Aita (José María de Orbe, 2010)

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This film casts a spell as a once grand, still-impressive house is depicted as a repository of memories that sporadically flicker into life on its faded and peeling walls.
Aside from a group of schoolchildren being shown the house part way through the film, we learn little of its history or the specifics of the people who once lived within it. It is old and has been expanded at various junctures with different historical tastes and styles being integrated into what nonetheless feels like a coherent space. That said, we do not really gain a sense of the geography of the house; rooms are shown in isolation and it is difficult to work out where they are in relation to each other. Likewise, the film is made up of a series of windows, mirrors, and doorways that frame the interiors but reveal little: they frame what we see inside but offer no outer view (we only see the grounds from the outside, although they are sometimes half glimpsed through shutters or net curtains), and the sense grows of the house as an enclosed, hermetically-sealed, entity. The passing of time has marked its surface, as nature has reclaimed every nook and cranny, vines like veins that take life rather than sustain it (and add to the sense of the house being sealed); a scene where the caretaker (Luís Pescador) starts to remove them from the facade seems like it is breathing life into a suffocated surface even while bits of cement audibly crumble and fall away. Renewal and death. Death and renewal.

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Little by little we work our way into the inner life of the house. The film starts outside with a discussion between two archaeological workers about the neglected state of the house and garden, which ends with the observation that there are signs of someone trying to take on nature and reclaim the house from its grasp. The rest of the film follows this caretaker as he commences a concerted effort to bring the house back to life (to what end, or why now, is not something we discover). It is a film with many textures as almost every wall we see is peeling or is in some way marked, the remnants of lives and previous incarnations left on the surface: the house is littered with tactile reminders of times past. Director José María de Orbe unfurls the house for the spectator, utilising layered spaces within single shots that are revealed or concealed by light and shadows (the use of light is beautiful) via the very deliberate opening and closing of doors and windows as the caretaker makes his way around the building.

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The film largely unfolds in silence apart from the diegetic sound of the local environment and the physical actions of those onscreen, and a series of short conversations between the caretaker and the local priest (Mikel Goenaga). Those conversations – about bones found in an archaeological dig in the grounds of the house (which is next door to the church), the senses that last longest after death, and a terrible white light (unseen by us) that starts to plague the caretaker – point to what the house will reveal as its layers are peeled back and raise the issue of whether some things are better left undisturbed. To begin with, it seems that ‘breathing life’ in to the house just involves repairs and sprucing it up, but about halfway through the running time something unexpected happens and the house becomes a living entity in and of itself, a repository of memories (of the house, its inhabitants, and the locale). As a storm lashes the house in the dark, and the rain running down the window ripples down a tiled wall in shadow form, making it seem as though the wall is trembling, the house suddenly flickers into life (the sound of the rain still on the soundtrack).

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The images projected onto surfaces of the house – mainly the wall of the grand hallway and that of a small bedroom – are history of the house (which can be seen within the footage) and its locale. Blending archival footage of the Basque Country (which is where the house is although only the archaeologists at the start speak in Basque; the caretaker and the priest converse in Castilian Spanish) with film of the house and the eponymous Aita (the Basque word for ‘father’) (Pedro Mayor) shot in the same style, the deliberately degraded and manipulated film stock (Antoni Pinent has the credit ‘manipulación de 35mm’) recounts sadness, suppression and the hidden, and the forgotten ghosts that populate the interstices of history. In the booklet that accompanies the DVD, the director says that they wished to create a new dialogue between the fragments of archival film and the house. Images that you would expect from early cinema (people enjoying themselves – we see a beach and later men dancing) are interspersed with sights that have a sinister undertone (priests and men in white coats seeming to torment children and young people in different contexts) and those of destruction. Looking at the end credits, the sequence showing men consumed by smoke (which finds an echo of the sequence where the caretaker smokes the woodwork of a grand fireplace) as they vainly attempt to tackle an enormous fire, may be footage from the bombing of Guernica (the town is named but there is no date given – if the fragments are listed in the order in which they appear, then ‘Guernica’ matches this section); if it is footage of the aftermath of the bombing, the deliberate degradation of the celluloid (the warping of which ripples, tremulously, across the surface of the image), with the effect of seemingly layering fire over fire, obliterating the past, is an eloquent and elegant indictment of the act.

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But the footage that specifically relates to the house is both mysterious (we are given no context) and threatening (the small bedroom, which already generates a sense of foreboding, is seen within the footage); the spectral beings that appear in those ‘memories’ seem to relate to the white light seen by the caretaker (who sleeps in that bedroom when he stays at the house). In one sequence the ‘light’ obscures a girl’s face, rendering her anonymous and denying her an identity (again, a suppression), but in the sequence relating to the bedroom, it passes from the spectre to the man in bed, engulfing his head (an attack). The lack of contextualisation lends the images an almost stream-of-consciousness poetry: vestiges of the past witnessed by the house are replayed on its walls without an obvious narrative structure. The related short film (50 minutes) Aita, carta al hijo (2011) is essentially a reworking of the feature but shorn of all conversation scenes and adding a voiceover (as well as some additional shots such as rooms viewed from a different angle and a few more inserts of archival footage). The voiceover (performed by the director himself) is that of the current owner of the house, who has been sent the papers found by the caretaker in the aftermath of a break-in, and takes the form of a letter written from a father (the father / aita we see in the fragmented archival footage?) to his son asking that he try to break from the cycle of violence and hate propagated in the region as if it is a tradition to be handed down through the generations. The lack of human interaction in the short (although it does include the footage of the atheist caretaker apparently finding some solace in listening to the harmonies of the church choir) adds an additional layer of melancholy.

But the mystery and melancholy are not affectation and neither is the poetry of the film. It is rare that a film feels utterly original, but that was how Aita felt to me. I recommend watching it in darkness because the play of light and shadow is magical.

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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.

Libertarias / Freedom Fighters (Vicente Aranda, 1996)

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Big Picture Magazine‘s theme for January 2016 is ‘War’. Trying to think of a film that related to ‘war’ in an unusual way, Libertarias / Freedom Fighters (Vicente Aranda, 1996) came to mind – it is set during the Spanish Civil War and focuses on a group of left-wing, anarchist women who are fighting on the front line. I reviewed the film back in 2014 when the London Spanish Film Festival had a retrospective of Vicente Aranda’s work, and I was surprised by how much I liked it because I generally get a ‘flesh peddler’ vibe from a lot of Aranda’s films (caveat: I’ve mainly seen his films from the 1990s and later) but this was a labour of love for the director and a celebration of radical women and political sisterhood.

Anyway, the piece had to fit within one of the standard sections of their website so I had to decide what tack to take with the film. I knew that I wanted to spotlight its treatment of the women. I wouldn’t categorise it as a ‘Lost Classic’ – it is by no means perfect – so it has ended up as a ‘Brilliant Failure’. This category isn’t meant to classify films as disasters but to highlight those films that don’t quite reach greatness but still have plenty to recommend them. For me, the ‘brilliant’ aspect of Libertarias is the way that politically-committed women (who self-identify as feminists) are put front and centre – their relationships with each other do not become secondary to a romantic plot or other aspects of the narrative. The ‘failure’ (or the central flaw) is that the main protagonist (and audience proxy) – María (Ariadna Gil – who I usually like) – is a wet blanket and her subservience runs counter to what the rest of the women embody. But there are other issues with the film. For example, while I was taking screenshots to accompany the piece I got distracted by the camerawork and started to wonder why – when the film is shot in a widescreen format – Aranda often panned between characters rather than cutting shot/reverse shot or simply putting people in the same frame. I don’t have an answer at the moment. Plus, there’s also a sequence where Victoria Abril’s character is seemingly possessed by a spirit which just feels like it’s from an entirely different film. But it was the way that Gil’s character undermines other aspects of the film that particularly irritated me when I first watched it.

Re: screenshots. The image at the top of this post is a promo shot – you will see over at Big Picture Magazine that the image quality on the actual DVD that I have is not very good. I spotted yesterday that the film was reissued last year – as part of Divisa’s initiative to restore and reissue OOP Spanish films – so possibly there is now a better edition available but there is still no subtitled version. So I’m afraid that I’m recommending something that most of you won’t be able to watch.

Click through to Big Picture Magazine to read my piece – Brilliant Failure: Freedom Fighters (Vicente Aranda, 1996).

 

Festival Report: Asturian shorts

Cuenta con nosotros_Dani Pérez Prada and David Pareja

More than 70 shorts were screened in Gijón – films from around the world, in and out of competition. I concentrated on the Spanish ones (for obvious reasons) but even then I didn’t manage to see all of them. In the end I’ve written about some of the ones that were in the Asturian section – I’m not familiar with cinema from the region, so this seemed like a good place to start. If you cast your mind back to my Gijón dispatches, you may remember that I had one evening when I wasn’t well and ended up returning to the hotel rather than going to the final session of the night. That session was for the Asturian films that were in competition, so I’d like to thank Alicia Albares, Roberto F. Canuto, Pablo A. Neila, Kiko and Javier Prada, Pablo Vara, Daniel Vázquez, and Benjamín Villaverde for giving me access to their respective films after the fact. For reasons of space, I could only focus on three of the films in my report, but hopefully I will have the occasion to write about the others in the future. My report can be found over at Eye for Filmhere.

5th Festival Márgenes: free to view online 13th-31st December

Festival Margenes 2015

The first online festival in Spain specifically dedicated to films without a commercial release or without access to the normal methods of distribution, Festival Márgenes is now in its fifth year and continues to celebrate and support filmmakers and films committed to offering alternative perspectives on both cinema and society. The full list of criteria that the films have to meet can be found here – but essentially they have to be more than 40 minutes long, to have not been distributed, and to originate from a specific set of countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela). The films can be of any genre, although it’s noticeable that documentaries tend to feature strongly.
The festival takes place in cinemas in Madrid, Monterrey, Barcelona, Montevideo, Córdoba, México DF, and Santiago de Chile from the 3rd December and then moves online from the 13th until the 31st. The films are all available to stream for free (although there are a couple that aren’t viewable outside of specified locations – noted below). There are Spanish subtitles on films that aren’t in Spanish, but as far as I’m aware there are no English subtitles this year. But even if your Spanish is rudimentary, I’d encourage you to give it a go – a) because cinema communicates through visuals (and non-verbal sound) at least as much as it does through verbal interactions, b) you have the chance to watch some films that you possibly won’t encounter elsewhere.
I haven’t had time to start watching the 2015 selection yet, but I wrote about the 4th edition last year and saw several films that I really liked – namely África 815 (Pilar Monsell, 2014) [UPDATE Oct 2016: the film is available to rent on the Márgenes VOD platform – there’s no indication whether subtitles are included], El gran vuelo / The Great Flight (Carolina Astudillo, 2014) [UPDATE Oct 2016: also available to rent – likewise, no indication of subtitles], and Propaganda (Colectivo MAFI, 2014). Hopefully I’ll manage to watch more this year. The festival prizes have already been awarded (indicated below – but see the website for full details / jury citations and the breakdown of what the prizes entail), so I will prioritise those titles but I also want to see Revolução Industrial [Industrial Revolution] (which I’m sure I read about last year in relation to other festivals), Transeúntes (which was recently at the Seville Film Festival), and the special bonus film (not part of the competition) Ragazzi (Raúl Perrone, 2014) – I saw Perrone’s Favula in Barcelona earlier in the year (my review) and would like to see if his other films maintain the fevered rarity of that one. So basically I need more hours in the day between now and the end of the year.
It’s also worth pointing out that Márgenes has its own VOD catalogue outside of the festival – a mixture of shorts and features (some viewable for free, others pay-per-view for a modest fee) and all at the more original and idiosyncratic end of Spanish production, including several films I’ve written about previously (for example, Edificio España (Víctor Moreno, 2013) and Branka (Mikel Zatarain, 2013)).

Anyway, the full list of films in the 2015 official selection is below – clicking on the title will take you to the streaming page for that film. I will post something further when I’ve managed to watch some of the films. UPDATE (28/12/15): I’ve started watching the films and will add * next to the title if I find that they have English subtitles (note: I’m only going to have time to watch a few, so if you’re interested I suggest that you try streaming them to see whether subtitles appear). UPDATE (Oct 2016): several of the films from this collection are now available to rent on the Márgenes VOD platform – note that subtitles aren’t mentioned, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t any (that was also the case during the festival period and all of the ones that I watched had subs).

Alexfilm (Pablo Chavarría, 2015), Mexico, 60 min.
As cidades e as trocas (Luísa Homem and Pedro Pinho, 2014), Portugal, 139 min.
El corral y el viento* (Miguel Hilari, 2014), Bolivia, 55 min. BEST FILM
La extranjera (Miguel Ángel Blanca, 2015), Spain, 70 min [only available in Spain].
La maldad* (Joshua Gil, 2015), Mexico, 74 min. SPECIAL MENTION BY THE JURY
La sombra* (Javier Olivera, 2015), Argentina, 72 min. CAMIRA PRIZE
L’Esma del Temps (El Sentido del Tiempo) (Alexandra Garcia-Vilà, Marta González, Marta Saleta, 2015), Spain, 54 min. HONORARY MENTION
Microbús (Alejandro Small, 2014), Peru, 44 min.
Navajazo (Ricardo Silva, 2014), Mexico, 75 min. [only available in Spain, Mexico, Chile & Uruguay].
Next (Elia Urquiza, 2015), Spain / USA, 72 min.
Revolução Industrial (Frederico Lobo and Tiago Hespanha, 2014), Portugal, 72 min.
Tú y Yo (Oriol Estrada and Natalia Cabral, 2014), Dominican Republic, 85 min. EXHIBITION PRIZE
Transeúntes* (Luis Aller, 2015), Spain, 101 min.

Reviews: Gijón

Dead-slow-ahead

I have a few reviews of films I saw in Gijón forthcoming over at Eye for Film. I’m starting with three of the features (I will add links to this post as and when they are published), but there will also be something on (some of) the Spanish shorts – I haven’t decided whether this is going to entail reviews, a report, or some combination of the two. I will either extend this post to include links to reviews of the shorts or write a separate post for them – it’ll depend on what I end up writing.

UPDATE (21/12/15), a review of one of the short films in the main competition:

I interviewed Adán Aliaga earlier in the year in relation to his feature (co-directed with David Valero), El arca de Noé / Noah’s Ark – that interview can be found here.