Mataharis is one of the films playing at EIFF as part of their Icíar Bollaín retrospective. My review for Eye for Film is here.
Mataharis is one of the films playing at EIFF as part of their Icíar Bollaín retrospective. My review for Eye for Film is here.
I’ve written about each edition of Festival Márgenes since 2014, usually in the form of an overview but sometimes going into a bit of detail about films I’ve particularly liked (click on the year for the relevant post: 2014, 2015, 2016). The festival focuses on films without distribution, made on the margins (or outside) of existing film industries in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Ibero-America (Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Latin American countries). Standouts from previous editions include África 815 (Pilar Monsell, 2014), El gran vuelo (Carolina Astudillo, 2014), La sombra (Javier Olivera, 2015), No Cow on the Ice (Eloy Domínguez Serén, 2015), and Pasaia bitartean (Irati Gorostidi, 2016).
The films included in the 2017 edition (links take you to the relevant streaming page – you need to register with the site to get started):
The Luis Ospina retrospective includes 20 films (shorts and features), also free to view. No indication is given about subtitles, but generally those films not in Spanish have (Castillian) Spanish subtitles and often a lot of the Spanish-language films have English subtitles – but as I’ve said in relation to previous editions, they’re all free to view, so it won’t cost you anything to just click on one and see if subtitles appear.
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’m intending to watch the films by Gabriel Azorín, María Cañas, and Luis Macías as a starting point. But my experience of Festival Márgenes is that they always have a really strong line-up – I usually only manage to watch a handful of films from a given edition but I’ve never watched a dud – so although some of the films might not be your kind of thing, you should be able to find something interesting that you would not otherwise get the chance to see.
This was originally posted on the old blog in October 2014 (my practice now when I reprint something from the old blog is to remove the original content and in its place leave a link to the post here) and is an extended version of the review I wrote for Eye for Film (which can be found here). The figures quoted within the piece (such as unemployment stats) relate to that year. Back in 2014, immigration was already a toxic topic within political discourse in the UK (a certain far right sack of English shit – whose media time is out of all proportion to the size of his party – was mentioned by name during the Q&A in Edinburgh). Post-EU Referendum, I can only imagine that the participants in Bollaín’s timely film have now seen this foreign land in a more negative light – I certainly have.
An angry cry of indignation and a call for political mobilisation, with En tierra extraña – her seventh feature – Icíar Bollaín makes her first foray into documentary, examining the emigration phenomenon among a generation of Spaniards (mainly university graduates in their 20s and 30s) who have been forced to leave Spain due to the economic situation. The Spanish government’s official figures say that around 225,000 Spaniards have left Spain since the current economic crisis began, but independent sources put the figure closer to 700,000 – at least 20,000 of whom have ended up in Edinburgh. So it was appropriate that the film’s UK premiere was as the opening film of the inaugural Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival. Bollaín – herself a resident of the Scottish capital – explores the reasons behind this generational exodus, and the experiences of those who have found themselves in a foreign land for an extended period of time through necessity rather than active choice.
Bollaín’s original plan was to follow the stories of five people, but – she explained in the Q&A after the (sold out) Edinburgh screening I attended – people kept leaving, and she had to rethink her approach. One of the original five was Gloria, who we see organising an artistic expression of how it feels to be Spanish and far from home – she collects ‘lost’ gloves from around the city (the metaphor of the single gloves is that being an emigrant is like feeling you are missing half of yourself, which I personally find a bit twee but it functions well enough here as a connecting device). The gloves were used in a photography project (the images flash up at the end of the film) which was advertised around the city and online, with people choosing a glove from Gloria’s collection to be photographed with but also contributing their stories and experiences. The gloves find their final home on the railings outside the Spanish Embassy in Edinburgh in a show of solidarity with the Marchas de la Dignidad [Dignity March] which took place on 22nd March 2014 in Spain. The participants interviewed and filmed by Bollaín are those who turned up on the day of the photography project.
They are filmed solo or in pairs against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle – perhaps a symbol of potentially impenetrable cultural barriers, but also conceivably a representation of a safe haven. In deeply moving, dignified, and articulate testimony, a series of highly qualified people – social workers, psychologists, teachers, and engineers among them – in their 20s and 30s (and some older women as well) explain how they came to be working in hotels, kitchens, and takeaways thousands of miles away from their homes and families. The story of a limited employment market, of short term contracts with little stability, a lack of opportunities and no clear future is a familiar one – similar situations are taking place across Europe. But arguably in Spain the problems have been exacerbated by pre-existing problems relating to their political system in combination with severe austerity measures, and they have hit the young hard – youth unemployment in Spain currently hovers at 54% (it is around 16% in the UK).
While the interviewees talk of the erosion of confidence that occurs when you are stuck doing work that you are not proud of – and that doesn’t stretch your capabilities – almost all of them also say that they have felt welcome in Scotland, and that their work is appreciated, valued, and offers the possibility of progression. Their experiences in Scotland have made many of them reevaluate how Spain treats immigrants, especially those from Latin America – and Bollaín offers illustrations of anti-immigration political campaigning in Spain (again, that’s something that Europe as a whole currently shares). Although we meet chemical engineers working as housekeepers (her revelation that she was so underpaid as an engineer in Spain that she actually earns the same cleaning hotel rooms in Edinburgh was met with a collective “Oof” from the predominantly Spanish audience at the screening), and biologists serving fried chicken, the film emphasises that there can be a life-enhancing side to being immersed in another culture. People who have been in Scotland for longer, have made it through the language barrier to develop their careers, such as the young man involved in events management at the Scottish Parliament.
But the flipside of this cultural immersion is the problematising of ‘belonging’ – on the one hand, many of the participants can’t imagine ever feeling that they belong in Scotland, but the longer they stay away from home, the more they feel ‘other’ when they return there as well. This is summed up by one woman as sometimes feeling that she has double of everything (two homes, two lives – a feeling of plentitude), but at other times that she only has half (because she is split between two places). Nearly all of them speak of the deep sense of loneliness experienced by the immigrant far from home and surrounded by a language that is not their own – another woman brilliantly describes it as only being able to offer an abridged version of yourself because your identity does not fully translate (underlined in her case by the Scottish being unable to properly pronounce her name – Mar – and adapting it into something recognisable to themselves but foreign to her self perception).
In amongst the nostalgia – Bollaín said that that was what most surprised her, that people in their 20s and 30s felt such a strong nostalgia for Spain, a longing for what they have left behind, or for those things being missed (e.g. births, deaths, and marriages, the markers in a shared life) during their absence – is a deeply-felt impotent rage at being subjected to something that is not of their making. The director’s contention is that despite what the politicians say – and Bollaín utilises news footage to give Spanish politicians enough rope to hang themselves with their disingenuous statements about enhanced employability – this mass emigration is not the same as that of Spain in the 1960s. In that era Spain was a poor country with a sub-standard education system – many of those who went abroad (predominantly to factories in Germany) were the rural poor. In contrast, those leaving today boast university educations, and head into unskilled work; the current phenomenon effectively deprives their homeland of a generation of skilled professionals and impoverishes the country in a way that goes beyond the economic.
Alongside news and archive footage (and an explanation of the socio-economic context from sociologist Joaquin Garcia Roca), Bollaín skilfully interweaves Alberto San Juan’s one-man show – Autorretrato de un joven capitalista español / Portrait of a Young Spanish Capitalist – into the film to create a recurring point of reference around which to organise the testimonies. Humorous, but also angry and educational, San Juan’s monologue questions how Spain came to be in its current economic position and proffers some explanations with recourse to history, politics, and an account of how the West (in the form of Henry Kissinger and German Chancellor Willy Brandt) interfered behind the scenes in Spain’s journey to democracy – and what Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González acquiesced to in the 1980s in order to get European membership for Spain. Cut from the same political cloth as Bollaín, San Juan pulls no punches and ends his performance by asking whether what the Spanish are experiencing now is just a continuation of Francoism under another name, wherein the vested interests of a powerful minority are protected at the expense of the common citizen. This acts as a carefully argued – although avowedly one-sided – counterbalance to the emotion of the testimonies, and as a call for mobilisation and participation in order to change Spanish politics.
At times profoundly moving (people trying not to cry is lump-in-my-throat material for me generally but the loneliness and trying-to-be-stoic-in-the-face-of-despair just made me want to hug them), En tierra extraña burns with indignation at the circumstances foisted on a generation who did what they were supposed to but who have had little choice but to abandon the careers and futures they thought lay ahead of them. While the film doesn’t offer solutions, it suggests that there is cause for hope – in one section of San Juan’s show he says that the streets of Spain fell silent on 23rd February 1981 (when Lieutenant Colonel Tejero attempted a coup d’etat in the Spanish Parliament) but that they woke up and unfroze on 15th May 2011 (the start of the protests and the Indignados movement). He argues that they won’t be silenced again, and during the Q&A Bollaín pointed to the abandonment of the Partido Popular’s medieval proposed abortion law and the appearance of new left-wing party Podemos as proof that people can make a difference when they group together. In calling Spain’s political class to account, Bollaín gives a voice to those left outside (a common theme across her filmography) – of both their country and political system – and at a time when poisonous polemics about immigration are sweeping Europe, her humane and impassioned documentary deserves to be seen far and wide.
The film is available on-demand at Vimeo.
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.
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.
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.
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 (Update, August 2017: where I have reprinted something here, I have decided to remove the contents of the original on the old blog and instead leave a link there to the new site (it doesn’t make much sense to have the pieces appear in two places)). 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]).
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).
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.
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.
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 – Update, August 2017: where I have reprinted something here, I have decided to remove the contents of the original on the old blog and instead leave a link there to the new site (it doesn’t make much sense to have the pieces appear in two places)) 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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.