Posts Tagged ‘Spanish cinema’

Strange Journey | El Extrano Viaje (1964)

Dir: Fernando Fernan Gomez | Cast: Carlos Larranaga, Tota Alba, Lina Canalejas, Rafaela Aparicio | Spain, Drama 92’

It’s a wonder this very black comedy got past Franco’s censors in the first place. After the premiere it received only a very limited release, but has since enjoyed considerable acclaim. Based on the notorious unsolved death of two brothers found dead on a beach in Mazarrón in 1956, in the film they have become brother and sister; a pair of moon-faced simpletons completely under the thumb of their terrifying big sister Ignacia. The setting is a small coastal town in which old women in black shawls cluck with disapproval at swinging young sixties chicks in leopardskin slacks; while Ignacia presides over a Gothic old house deliberately reminiscent of the Bates mansion in Psycho.

Described by Pedro Almodóvar as an “accursed masterpiece”, the film’s director Fernando Fernán Gómez (1921-2007) was best known in Spain as an actor, and fleetingly appeared as Penelope Cruz’s senile father in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999).

After Tota Alba’s Ignacia discovers passion she undergoes a startling visual transformation from the housekeeper in The Cat and the Canary into a dead ringer for one of Almodóvar’s short-skirted, big-haired cougars of the eighties and nineties. And as if the film wasn’t already weird enough, her downtrodden brother Venancio is played by international sleazemeister Jesús Franco, who although he often played small parts in his own films, here makes an extremely rare appearance in a substantial acting role in a ‘respectable’ film. ©Richard Chatten

 

Fire Will Come | O Que Arde (2019) Mubi

Dir: Oliver Laxe | Wri: Oliver Laxe, Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe | DoP Mauro Herce | 90′

One of the strongest films in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2019 was this stunning docudrama from Mimosas director Oliver Laxe.

Set in the remote Ancares region in the heart of the Galician mountains Oliver Laxe’s stirring third feature transports us back to a rural way of life where the occupants live in gentle and humble acceptance of nature, eeking out their existence from the land and the animals who live amongst them.

This wild and savagely beautiful part of North East Spain is covered in rain-drenched forests and rolling mountains where the gusty winds can kindle even a small fire and send it raging incandescently through the region decimating flora and fauna. Laxe’s gaze is detached but brooding with sensitivity, inviting us into to this strangely unsettling world.

Amador grew up here with his parents and his respect for the local way of life is palpable. His regular cinematographer Mauro Herce (Dead Slow Ahead) shooting on Super 16, films a row of fir trees cascading to the ground and eventually revealing a massive bulldozer causing widespread mayhem as it moves ominously through the wooded hillside like a behemoth .

Amador (Amador Arias) comes home after serving time for causing a fire that almost wiped out the villagers, not to mention the vegetation and livestock. Set to the sonorous tones of a Vivaldi psalm we can sense this is a bitter homecoming for a middle-aged man with no one but his 83 year old mother Benedicta (Sanchez) to welcome him. She does this with a simple acknowledgement. “Are you hungry?” Both characters are played by non-pros who inhabit their roles with the naturalism professionals

Mother and son continue their day to day life as they left off. Amador is rather harsh on his sweet and obliging mother who runs their smallholding single-handedly, tending their three cows and trudging backwards and forwards with their ageing Alsatian. The other locals in this mournful corner include Inazio (Inazio Abra), who is working on a large-scale refurbishment of his parents’ stone farmhouse. Amador is emotionally buttoned down and taciturn, refusing to rise to the bait when one of the villagers shouts, “Hey Amador, have you got a light?”

There is a solace to this spartan existence drawn by Laxe with moving simplicity. The animals complete their household. Elena (Fernandez) the vet is the only intruder and she arrives to help pull one of their cows out of a ditch. The journey back to her practice is one of poignant beauty and wry humour as Amador once again remains tacitly unfriendly while the cow’s gentle eyes look on trustingly.

This is a minimalist film of rare eloquence. Nothing is forced or spare, the unsettling narrative gradually unfolding with a growing sense of doom as, predictably, the fires come back to the mountains forcing the animals to flee amid devastation, firefighters struggling with the raw power of the mammoth flames. One image that remains seared to the memory is of a horse stumbling bewildered from the wreckage, having been singed by thefla,es. The tiny figure of Benedicta is seen wandering disconsolately across the charred landscape. And we are once again left to ponder Amador’s involvement. Fire Will Come is pure cinema. Set to the atmospheric ambient sounds of nature and full of naturalistic detail and subtle undercurrents, it is joy to behold. MT

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Pain and Glory (2019) ****

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas | Drama, Spain 117’

Pedro Almodóvar has never won the coveted Palme d’Or but here he gets another chance to prove his impressive talents at portraying with probing insight and humanity a variety of tortured characters both male and female. Pain and Glory is a uniquely piquant and personal portrait that takes us into his own heart through the story of another struggling filmmaker. Once again, as we enjoyed in Julieta, this is a confident and passionate affair resonating with the work of many great auteurs before him, Fellini springs to mind, and the film is seductively set to a score by Alberto Iglesias. But this is one of his most subtle almost sensitive works to date that feels convincingly honest and spontaneous, while quailing away from theatricality it is elegant and self-assured. Maybe the Spanish director has finally let down his guard and bared his soul in this rather delicate drama. It follows one Salvador Mallo (his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas who plays his alter ego with feeling) a filmmaker who has lost his way and now reflects mournfully on his past in lonely solitude as the present quietly collapses around him. And we feel for his quiet pain in every scene as the narrative unfolds in the context of other minor stories. Finally the fourth wall is broken and we discover the truth, in rather an abrupt finale. Mallo opines “a great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain his tears”. Pedro Almodovar has finally come home, but ironically Banderas wins the award. MT

Pain and Glory (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas | Drama, Spain 117’

Pedro Almodóvar has never won the coveted Palme d’Or but here he gets another chance to prove his impressive talents at portraying with probing insight and humanity a variety of tortured characters both male and female. Pain and Glory is a uniquely piquant and personal portrait that takes us into his own heart through the story of another struggling filmmaker. Once again, as we enjoyed in Julieta, this is a confident and passionate affair resonating with the work of many great auteurs before him, Fellini springs to mind, and the film is seductively set to a score by Alberto Iglesias. But this is one of his most subtle almost sensitive works to date that feels convincingly honest and spontaneous, while quailing away from theatricality it is elegant and self-assured. Maybe the Spanish director has finally let down his guard and bared his soul in this rather delicate drama. It follows one Salvador Mallo (his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas who plays his alter ego with feeling) a filmmaker who has lost his way and now reflects mournfully on his past in lonely solitude as the present quietly collapses around him. And we feel for his quiet pain in every scene as the narrative unfolds in the context of other minor stories. Finally the fourth wall is broken and we discover the truth, in rather an abrupt finale. Mallo opines “a great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain his tears”. Pedro Almodovar has finally come home, but ironically Banderas wins the award. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019 |Winner Best Actor for Antonio Banderas

 

 

 

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