Sunday, 6 May 2012

The London Spanish Film Festival 2012

This weekend I’ve seen two films at the London Spanish Film Festival. It’s a shame that they have more than halved the amount of films they screened this year at this festival – it used to be a whole week long, and this year, it was confined to three days. However, the two films I watched were well worth seeing.

I first saw Madrid, 1987, by David Trueba, the younger brother of the more famous Fernando Trueba, who’s film, Belle Époque, in 1992 won him recognition by being named Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th Academy Awards. David Trueba, nevertheless, has been involved in cinema since his early years – writing, directing and acting, like his older brother.

Based on the Q&A session afterwards, David said that most people asked him ‘Why 1987?’ What happened in that year?’ His answer is: ‘Nothing special. It’s just the year I started university’. And that’s the key to understand the purpose of his film. Trueba wanted to capture life in Spain during the Spanish Transition – the period just after Franco dies and Spain enters in democracy – from the point of view of ordinary people who lived at that time.  And he did so, by placing two people of different generations enclosed in a very limited space: a bathroom. And to increase the tension and add some drama to the plot – as there is supposedly a limited story-line inside a bathroom - they are both naked: an accomplished journalist in his sixties, and a pretty young girl on her late teens/ early twenties. And I say ‘supposedly limited story-line’ as I found the dialogue very compelling and hooking me into that claustrophobic bathroom, as the director, I guess, wanted to transmit.

I believe he wanted to convey the feeling that Spanish citizens felt during the Transition, a time that was still uncertain and, at the same time, new. The old world and the new mixing together, something still undefined, as the bodies of Miguel (played by José Sacristán) and Ángela (María Valverde) also blended as well as fought, inside that bathroom.

There were lots of themes discussed during their three day ordeal in that bathroom, both spoken and unspoken, but sex, writing and death, as well as the differences in generations as a focal point, were the main ones. And these interweave to such an extent that at one point Miguel says: ‘To fuck or not to fuck?’ as if reciting Shakespeare in a Kafkian cave (the bathroom) during El Destape (this is the name Spanish cinema has been given during the Spanish Transition, when nudity started to appear in films due to the end of censorship). However, this is not the only tone the story-line takes as it also tackles journalism and the art of writing in a more sober and well-spoken way.

I can understand how some viewers could find Miguel condescending and too catastrophic, but I think the director wanted to represent the frustration and pessimism of the older generation, contrasting with the ingenuity and hope of the young. And he did it with irony and wit: a dialogue – or almost monologue, let’s say, as he talks non-stop, whilst she hardly gets out a sentence until the end - full of cynicism and metaphors, characteristic of an eloquent journalist. In terms of their performances, these were flawless, considering the added difficulty of having to act in the nude in such a reduced space.

Madrid, 1987 was short-listed at the 2012 Miami Film Festival and screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Utah. The UK release date has not yet been advised but hopefully we will see it shown in some of the independent cinemas around the country.

The second film I saw was Cinco Metros Cuadrados (translated as ‘Five Square Metres’) directed by Max Lemcke. It won Best Film at the XIV Festival de Málaga Cine Español, the fourth feature film from this director from Madrid.

It relates the tale of a couple soon to be married, who find themselves buying a flat off-plan, which was built in an environmentally protected area. Therefore, they find themselves soon enough, without the flat and without the money. The film reflects the suffering of those who experienced the house market bubble in Spain some years back - with some funny notes due to the utter frustration of Álex and Virginia (the main actors, played by Fernando Tejero and Malena Alterio respectively) and some gloomy moments, when you realise the extent of the situation. Álex, at the height of his patience and absolute disillusionment, asks one of the sales people in the housing development company if she has ever eaten at Telepizza (this would be the equivalent of Pizza Hut). He begins by explaining the range of food they have on offer - with the astonished face of the sales person – and ends up by saying that it’s tiring eating there every day, as they can’t afford anything else.

It was a shame I didn’t have the chance to attend the Special Events on Carlos Saura – there was a Cinema Masterclass with the acclaimed director, and also a repeat of one of his most celebrated films Carmen.

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