Thursday, 26 January 2012

More Random Viewing

Left to right: Catalunya über alles (Ramón Termens, 2011) and No controles (Borja Cobeaga, 2011).

Well, this is a good start to the year -two of the films that featured in my 'Ten films from 2011 to see in 2012' post.
Catalunya über alles consists of three stories that all take place in the same small town in Catalonia. The stories are told separately (i.e. one after the other) but there are overlaps (we see certain events from different perspectives and some location recur) and some minor characters appear in more than one of the narratives. The first story concerns a newly-released former prisoner who returns home to his mother's house but finds that the community is unwilling to accept him back (he was convicted of rape). At its centre is a taciturn, almost silent, performance by Gonzalo Cunill (as the ex-prisoner -none of the characters have names) that I found very moving, and I also liked that the viewer was deliberately wrong-footed as to the intentions of the character and the direction of the story. The second story features an immigrant (Babou Cham) searching for employment to support his family against the backdrop of a local politician's (Jordi Dauder) electoral campaign running on an anti-immigrant platform ('Catalan jobs for Catalan workers'). This story has its moments of levity -mainly in the scenes at home with the family- but there's also an undercurrent of racism that occasionally comes to the surface and is seen to be felt by the immigrant. The first two stories reveal an insularity and closedmindedness to the area; we see the town through the eyes of outsiders and it is an uncomfortable experience. The third story brings elements from the first two ((perceived) criminality and immigration) together through the circumstances of a local upstanding member of the community (Joel Joan) who, when returning early from a holiday, disturbs a burglar and pursues, shoots, and kills him. The burglar turns out to be a foreigner and the case becomes a tabloid star with the community divided into those who believe the man had the right the defend his home and those who are troubled by the manner of the burglar's death (the final shot was at close range). Again, the story is not quite as it seems, and I thought the film very cleverly put together (both the individual pieces and how they fit together as a whole), if somewhat sad.
In No controles Sergio (Unax Ugalde) is having a very bad New Year's Eve. Having parted company with his ex-girlfriend (Alejandra Jiménez) at the airport after a trip home (several months after breaking up, he still hasn't told his parents, so she has accompanied him over the holidays), a snow storm grounds his plane to Madrid and he finds himself stranded (without his luggage, of course) in a local hotel with someone he apparently went to school with (he doesn't remember him), Juancarlitros (Julián López). Bea (Jiménez) is also sent to the same hotel and before long Juancarlitros and his gang of commandeered misfits (Secun de la Rosa, Alfredo Silva, and Mariam Hernández) try to plot a way to get Sergio back with Bea and to stop her going to Germany with Ernesto (Miguel Ángel Muñoz). A series of catastrophic events follow. This is Borja Cobeaga's second film and it feels more mature than Pagafantas -whereas that first film was an out and out comedy, this is a more traditional romantic comedy and it is grounded in a believable reality. The comic creation of Juancarlitros could have overwhelmed the film but Cobeaga is careful not to let him take over the narrative; it is Sergio's story and his introversion plays nicely against Juancarlitros's oblivious and enthusiastic ineptitude. Furthermore, Ugalde is believably awkward as a man who can't bring himself to say what he really feels (or rather, who usually manages to say something other than what he wants) and the more serious scenes between he and Jiménez feel heartfelt; the film has a nice balance between humour and emotion.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Random Viewing

Left to right: También la lluvia / Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010), Oviedo Express (Gonzalo Suárez, 2007).

También la lluvia is a film I've been trying to get hold of for a while, but for some reason the DVD is like gold dust through mainstream sites (which allows the private sellers to demand ridiculous prices) -if anyone knows why, please leave a comment below because it seems very odd that something only released on DVD in 2011 is so difficult to get hold of. Anyway, it was well worth the effort because I really enjoyed it and it contains some quietly compelling performances. On a basic level it's about a Spanish film crew in Bolivia trying to make a film about Columbus's discovery of the New World, the indigenous resistance that followed, and the part played by priests in the whole saga -so a film about filmmaking, then, with Gael García Bernal as the idealistic director, Luis Tosar as the cynical producer, and Karra Elejalde (who won a Goya for his performance) as the faded big name actor playing Columbus. We see the usual arguments about production costs, and a series of self-absorbed (and self-righteous), bickering actors. But it develops into something far richer by setting up a series of parallels between the narrative of the film being made and the social circumstances they find being played out in Bolivia - there's Columbus and the New World / the film crew and Bolivia, and the Colonial power's desire for gold / a multinational company buying up Bolivia's water rights. The film crew find that they cannot ignore what is going on around them because they hire locals to play the indigenous population, and the man they hire to play the leader of the resistance (Juan Carlos Aduviri) is one of the key organisers of the protests against the multinational company that is taking over the national water supplies (a law makes it illegal for the locals to dig their own wells or to collect 'even the rain'). This makes it sound like it could be a worthy and dull affair but it's not. We think that we know the character 'types' that people are playing, but they are all changed by their experiences and turn out to be more well-rounded than first appears -e.g. the idealist does not, strictly speaking, live up to his own ideals, and the cynic (believably) discovers that some things are more important than money. I may revisit the film in the future in a longer post -if you get a chance to see it, do so, because it is one of the films that I've liked the most in recent months. 
Oviedo Express has certain similarities plotwise -in this case a visiting theatre troupe prepare to put on a version of La Regenta in Oviedo, and their arrival impacts on the lives of the locals (and vice versa), but that is where the similarity ends. It is a tragicomedy of sorts with a very starry cast (Carmelo Gómez! Aitana Sánchez-Gijón! Bárbara Goenaga! Maribel Verdú! Najwa Nimri! Jorge Sanz!) but it has a bit of a mean streak that leaves a bitter taste. Although it's probably not one that I will rewatch, it did have its moments -namely any scene with Maribel Verdú, and Carmelo Gómez's bit of business with his cape.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Goya Awards 2012: the nominations

The nominations for the 2012 Goya Awards were announced on Tuesday morning: Pedro Almodóvar and Enrique Urbizu lead the pack with 16 nominations for La piel que habito and 14 for No habrá paz para los malvados respectively. Of the other two Best Film nominees, Blackthorn has 11 nominations and La voz dormida has 9. The dark horse is Eva (a directorial debut that appeared on my radar only when it was released at the tail-end of last year) with 12 nominations. According to what I've read elsewhere, Urbizu has the edge over Almodóvar and likewise Coronado appears to be the favourite for Best Actor (although Banderas has never won a Goya, so that may be an emotional pull in his favour). With the exception of Best Female Newcomer (widely thought to already be in the bag for María León), the other acting categories are harder to call. As I haven't seen a lot of the films yet, it is hard for me to say where the surprises are, although given the hype surrounding certain films there are some surprising omissions (for example, No tengas miedo and Cinco metros cuadrados have had a lot of awards buzz in the past few months). The ceremony takes place on the 19th February. The nominees in the main categories are listed below.

Best Film:
La piel que habito
La voz dormida
No habrá paz para los malvados

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ten Spanish Films Due to Arrive in 2012


These are films that were in production last year (or are in production at the moment), so I'm hoping that they will be released this year (although there is a film on the list that I thought would be out in 2011, so this isn't foolproof logic). These are the films that have caught my eye and piqued my interest -I may hear of others as the year goes on, but at the start of 2012 this is a good list to be getting on with. In many cases I don't know that much about the plot aside from an idea as to the genre; the people (directors, actors, or a combination of the two) involved are generally what has attracted my attention. Quite a few of them are due for release in the first few months of the year, so I may do an update post (or a ‘Part Two’) later in 2012. 
[Note: If the title translation appears in square brackets then it is my (literal) translation -translations without brackets are the productions' official English-language titles]

Blancanieves [Snow White] (dir. Pablo Berger)
Cast: Maribel Verdú, Macarena García, Sofia Oria, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Pere Ponce, Ángela Molina.
Silent Melodrama. There are several US retellings of the Snow White story due for release in 2012, but this one is set in 1930s Madrid and is filmed in black and white. Oh, and it's silent as well (with a score by Alberto Iglesias) -they are planning to take the film on a tour of Spanish theatres accompanied by an orchestra. Above is one of the first images of Maribel Verdú as the evil stepmother -more photos (including the one at the top of the post) can be found on the film's Facebook page. It looks like a ravishingly beautiful film. Due for release in March.

Extraterrestre / Extraterrestrial (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
Cast: Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Carlos Areces.
Sci-fi Romcom. This appeared on last year's 'to watch' list but only appeared at film festivals -it is due for release in Spain in March 2012 (and will hopefully get a release here later in the year).

Grupo 7 [Group 7] (dir. Alberto Rodríguez)
Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Mario Casas, Joaquin Núñez, Inma Cuesta, Julián Villagrán.
Action Drama.  Seville, 1980s. From what I've heard so far, this might be Training Day a la española: a new officer (Casas) joins an established police drug task-force dominated by an officer (de la Torre) who doesn't play by the rulebook. The teaser trailer can be found on the film’s official blog. Due for release in April.

Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo / Katmandu, a mirror in the sky (dir. Icíar Bollaín)
Cast: Verónica Echegui
Drama. A young Catalan woman travels to Nepal to teach English and is changed by what she finds. She in turn changes the lives of those around her. The majority of Bollaín's films prioritise the female POV and centre on strong women -this is very appealing to me. I also think that Echegui is a star on the rise, and am interested to see what the pair achieve working together. Due for release in February.

La chispa de la vida / As Luck Would Have It (dir. Álex de la Iglesia)
Cast: José Mota, Salma Hayek, Fernando Tejero, Blanca Portillo, Juan Luis Galiardo.
Comedy. A media circus centres on an advertising exec (Mota) who is stuck in a life and death situation (judging from the trailer, this is partly of his own making). With no-one in agreement as to how to move him without killing him, he decides to take the media's money for exclusive coverage so that he can at least guarantee his family's economic future -I'd imagine that the situation deteriorates from then on. As I said in the Random Viewing post that featured Balada triste de trompeta, that film seems like a culmination of certain aspects of de la Iglesia's work; I'm intrigued to see where he has gone next with this new film. Due for release 3rd January.

La montaña rusa [The Russian Mountain] (dir. Emilio Martínez-Lázaro)
Cast: Verónica Sánchez, Ernesto Alterio, Alberto San Juan.
Romcom. Three childhood friends (two male, one female) reencounter each other many years later -a love triangle develops. I enjoyed the El otro lado de la cama films, and this reunites many of the same team.

Las Olas / The Waves (dir. Alberto Morais)
Cast: Carlos Álvarez-Nóvoa, Laia Marull, Armando Aguire, Sergio Caballero.
Drama. A road trip film of sorts as an 80-year-old man (Álvarez-Nóvoa) sets off on a journey into his past after the death of his wife; a film about memory, loss, and coming to terms with the past. I first heard mention of it when it played at the London Film Festival last autumn -it's due a commercial release in Spain in January.

Silencio en la nieve [Silence in the Snow] (dir. Gerardo Herrero)
Cast: Juan Diego Botto, Carmelo Gómez, Jordi Aguilar, Víctor Clavijo, Sergi Calleja, Francesc Orella, Adolfo Fernández, Andrés Gertrudix, Manu Hernández, Javier Mejía. 
Historical Thriller. Set in the Winter of 1943 and the hunt for a serial killer amongst the 'División Azul', the Spanish military volunteers allowed by Franco to fight alongside the German Army on the Russian Front. Trailer. Due for release in January.

Todo es silencio [Everything is Silence] (dir. José Luis Cuerda)
Cast: Quim Gutiérrez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Celia Frejeiro, Juan Diego.
Thriller, based on the novel by Manuel Rivas. Cuerda supposedly retired after his last film, the excellent Los girasoles ciegos / The Blind Sunflowers (2008), but he's back with this story set against the backdrop of drug-trafficking and its impact (of the 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' variety) on a small coastal town. Childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the law in adulthood, and in love with the same woman.... [no images as yet].

Una pistola en cada mano [A Pistol in Each Hand] (dir. Cesc Gay)
Cast: Eduardo Noriega, Leonor Watling, Luis Tosar, Javier Cámara, Candela Peña, Eduard Fernández, Alberto San Juan, Clara Segura.
Comedy. I've seen few story details so far, but it appears to be a comedy about the modern man. Gay's Ficción (2007) is one my favourite films from recent years and this has to be one of the best cast lists of the year. [no images as yet].

Monday, 2 January 2012

Ten Spanish Films from 2011 To See In 2012:

As I said in my 'Best of the Year'-type post before Christmas, I tend to see Spanish films the year after their initial release when they become available on DVD. Here is a selection of those that I've been reading about during the past year and hope to get my hands on in the coming months.

Blackthorn (Mateo Gil, 2011)
Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier.
This appeared in my 'Spanish films to see in 2011' post last February and is an updating of the Butch Cassidy myth (effectively Butch Cassidy: the later years). Mateo Gil's directorial debut gave this blog its name -I'm (still) eagerly waiting to see his second feature film.

Blog (Elena Trapé, 2011)
A cast of unknowns in a story (apparently based on actual events in the US) about a group of teenage girls who set out to all get pregnant at the same time. What Trapé has apparently managed to achieve is a faithful representation of the type of female friendships that during adolescence often seem a stronger bond than family ties. The unusual aspect (and the aspect that intrigues me) is that this tale of sexual awakening is represented through multiple female perspectives, and only female perspectives -there are many male coming-of-age films, but few female ones.  

Catalunya über alles! (Ramon Térmens, 2011)
This won the Special Jury Prize at the Málaga Spanish Film Festival in 2011 and I saw much praise of it on twitter at around the same time. It has three stories with overlapping characters that take place in the same village. Beyond that, I only know the scarcest of details......but I'm intrigued. 

Cinco metros cuadrados / Five Square Metres (Max Lemcke, 2011)
Cast: Fernando Tejero, Malena Alterio, Jorge Bosch.
Another winner from the 2011 Málaga Spanish Film Festival: Best Film, Best Actor (Tejero), Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bosch), and the Critic's Award. Tejero and (to a lesser extent) Alterio are best known for comedic roles but this is a dramatic film set against the Spanish housing crisis. I like it when actors play against 'type', so that alone would be enough to interest me, but the film as a whole has also won a lot of praise. 

Crebinsky (Enrique Otero, 2011)
This seems to have only had a limited release outside of film festivals so far (yet again, it was in dispatches from Málaga last year that I first heard mention of it). Set in 1944, the brothers Crebinsky and their cow live on the Galician coast after being washed away from their village by a flood. Cut off from the world around them they are unaware of the military goings-on in the vicinity, and create their own magic-realist world. The trailer looks a bit like a cross between the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Monty Python.

La voz dormida / The Sleeping Voice (Benito Zambrano, 2011)
Cast: María León, Inma Cuesta, Marc Clotet, Daniel Holguín.
Madrid, 1940. The story of female political prisoners in the post-(Civil)War period, focusing on the case of Hortensia (Cuesta), pregnant and condemned to death, and the efforts of her sister Pepita (León) to free her. It has been gathering award attention since it debuted at the San Sebastián Film Festival in September, where María León won Best Actress.

Mientras duermes / Sleep Tight (Jaume Balagueró, 2011)
Cast: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan, Petra Martínez
Thriller. Tosar plays a malevolent caretaker of a block of flats who decides to take out his dissatisfactions on the inhabitants of the building. I've deliberately avoided reading too much about it, but the trailer looks brilliant. I think that there's a strong chance that it will get a UK release.

No controles (Borja Cobeaga, 2011)
Cast: Unax Ugalde, Alexandra Jiménez, Julián López, Secun de la Rosa, Miguel Ángel Muñoz.
Because Cobeaga's first film, Pagafantas (2009), an anthropological take on rejection, made me cry with laughter. 

No habrá paz para los malvados / No Rest for the Wicked (Enrique Urbizu, 2011)
Cast: José Coronado, Julio Perillán, Karim El-Kerem, Helena Miquel.
Thriller. This would have been on my list of 'films to see in 2011' in my post last February had I known that Urbizu had a new film on the way. Connoisseurs of the thriller genre take note: a Master is back at work. I'm really excited to see this tale of terrorism, drugs, and police corruption, especially as it reunites the director with José Coronado (apparently on barnstorming form) for the third time.

No tengas miedo (Montxo Armendáriz, 2011)
Cast: Michelle Jenner, Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar.
I missed watching this when it was available on Filmin for a limited period, in part because the subject matter (child abuse) put me off. However, the film continues to be mentioned as a strong awards contender, not least for Michelle Jenner's performance, so I will make sure to catch up with it soon.