• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (25/9/2020)

(Overview of the 16th London Spanish Film Festival)


The autumn is usually a busy time for festivals. But Covid 19 has depleted the schedule and it remains to be seen whether events like Raindance and the London Film Festival can go still ahead. Timing is key in these matters and the 16th London Spanish Film Festival has been fortunate in pre-empting any changes in lockdown guidance.


Running exclusively at Ciné Lumière in Kensington between 22-27 September, the programme includes a special 50th anniversary screening of Luis Buñuel's Tristana (1970), which is based on a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós and centres on the turbulent pre-Civil War relationship between Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) and her guardian, Don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey). There's also a children's showing of Carlos Saldanha's animation, Ferdinand (2017).


In addition to the titles covered below, the main programme also includes Benito Zambrano's Intemperie/Out in the Open and Guillermo Rojas's Una Vez Más, while the Catalan Window is completed by Aurel's Josep and its Basque equivalent by Alejandro Amenábar's Mientras dure la Guerra/While at War, Miguel Angel Jiménez's Una Ventana al Mar/A Window to the Sea and Asier Altuna and Telmo Esnal's Bye Bye, Mr Extebeste.


75 DIAS.


Coming so soon after Netflix launched Elias Leon's five-part series, The Alcàsser Murders, Marc Romero's 75 Días/75 Days may strike some as an afterthought. However, this unflinching study of a case that shook Spain puts its own spin on the calibre of the investigation of and reporting on the deaths of teenagers Miriam García, Toñi Gómez and Desirée Hernández, who disappeared on 13 November 1992 after hitching from their homes in Alcàsser to attend a school party in the Coolor nightclub on the outskirts of the neighbouring town of Picassent.


Having visited their sick friend, 14 year-olds Ada (Carla Martin), Marina (Álex Viciano), Elena (Luz Carrera) and Tania (Andrea Pereira) hitch a lift to a petrol station en route to the Coolor nightclub. When they fail to arrive, Marina's parents, Vincente (Javier Albala) and Isabel Arjona (Ana Fernández), report them missing and are dismayed by the police response that they have run away on an adventure. Tania's parents, Pedro (Alfredo Carbajo Villa) and Lucia (Antónia San Juan), and Elena's mother, Amparo (Eulàlia Ramon), are unhappy with the officiating Civil Guard captain (Carlos Reyes), who is bombarded with crank calls, as well as suggestions that the girls have been sex trafficked.


After 75 days, the bodies are found in a country ditch after rain had caused the soil to subside. A medical document leads the police to Eduardo Anglés (Adrián López), who is arrested along with his family. But brother Antonio (Jonás Torres) escapes by taxi and a manhunt begins as Miguel Ricart (Ion Manresa) is charged along with Eduardo and Professor José Ramón (Luis Flor) finds hairs belonging to seven strangers on the bodies while conducting a second autopsy that convinces Vincente that the jailed twosome are scapegoats who have been framed by organised criminals.


However. a lurch from the methodical reconstruction exploring the impact of the tragedy on the families takes us to flashbacking testimonies from Eduardo and Ricart that establish Antonio as a psychotic paedophile who brutalised his Alcàsser victims. While he flees Spain on a container vessel and is presumed drowned off the coast of Ireland, Ricart and Antonio's siblings, Norma (Yohana Cobo) and Carlos (Christian Checa), change their testimonies in court to throw the trial into confusion. But, while Ricart is sentenced to 170 years in prison (of which he serves a fraction), Vicente strongly suspects a cover-up by important people that included a deliberately botched post mortem.


For all the speculation about what happened to the girls or Antonio, Romero remains as much in the dark as everyone else. He puts the pieces together with care and sheds some light on the agony endured by the families and the shame felt by the Anglés matriarch, Olivia (Paloma Paso Jardiel). Apart from a clumsy coda showing Antonio being gunned down by anonymous assassins, however, he offers no theories beyond what is already known or surmised. Moreover, he avoids any assessment of the media coverage and the impact it had on the psyche of Spanish women. The ensemble playing is solid, as are the production values, but this only skims the surface of a shockingly unresolved story.


INVISIBLES.


When Gracia Querejeta was filming By My Side Again (1999), actress Mercedes Sampietro informed her, `You don't know this yet, but there comes an age and a time in life when you become invisible as a woman.' Still in her thirties, the Madrileña thought the 52 year-old was being paranoid. But the words continued to haunt her and she explores the ways in which women cope with turning fifty in a society that increasingly values youth and beauty in Invisibles/The Invisible.


Over the years, Elsa (Emma Suárez), Amelia (Nathalie Poza) and Julia (Adriana Ozores) have become friends during their Thursday morning exercise sessions. Walking in the park before work, they get a chance to blow away some cobwebs, share their views on the world and confide about events happening in their lives. Amelia has had the toughest time, as she has endured domestic abuse in order to fulfil the societal expectation of being part of a couple. She now detests her husband of 15 years and has grown tired of the demands made by the students at the school where she teaches maths.


By contrast, Elsa has men fawning over her, as she has been turning heads since she was a teenager. Now, she is convinced that her boss at a leading film distribution company is flirting with her. But he is a married man and seemingly immune to her charms. While Elsa is worried that age is beginning to catch up with her, she is nowhere near as disillusioned as Julia, who runs her own garden nursery. Despite being happy in her work, however, she is frustrated that her relationship with a divorcé is being hijacked by his teenage daughter, who refuses to accept her.


Writing with longtime co-scenarist Antonio Mercero, Querejeta pulls few punches in confronting the prejudices that women of a certain age face and sometimes impose upon themselves. She keeps Juan Carlos Gómez's camera moving around the park (which is not in Madrid, but in Cáceres), but the focus is firmly on the conversations. As in the films of Eric Rohmer, the dialogue manages to sound spontaneous and profound, as the friends discuss everything from their changing bodies and shifting ideas on desire to security and the fear of rejection. Some of the debates become heated and Emma Suarez, Adriana Ozores and Nathalie Poza rise to the challenge of luring the audience into unseen milieux with passion and aplomb. Don't be surprised to hear that this has been snapped up for a Hollywood remake, as such well-rounded roles are still dismayingly rare in American films.


L'OFRENA


Forming part of the Catalan Window sidebar, L'Ofrena/The Offering marks Ventura Durall's return to fictional features for the first time in over a decade. He has spent the time making documentaries since debuting with The Two Lives of Andrés Rabadàn (2008), which examined the facts behind the notorious 1994 `crossbow killer' case, which saw a 19 year-old murder the father who had been abusing his sister. However, it wasn't always easy to follow this psychological thriller, as the print seen came without English subtitles.


Another close relationship comes under strain in this rumination on identity, past relationships, communication within couples and the need for closure and forgiveness. Violeta (Anna Alarcón) is a renowned psychologist, who is happily married to househusband Nico (Pablo Molinero), who is raising their two children. Anna and Max. Her routine is disturbed, however, when Rita (Verónica Echegui) comes to her office, asking how she can reclaim her husband's affections, as he is still in love with an old flame. Intrigued by the case, Violeta quickly changes her mind when she discovers that Rita is married to Jan Sorell (Alex Brendemühl).


Flashing back 20 years, the young Violeta (Claudia Riera) is eager to rebel against her strict father, who always sides with her sister, Laura (Laura Weissmahr). While hanging on the beach, she drifts towards the guitar-playing Jan (Josh Climent) and his clique and a passionate summer romance begins. She is ready to commit to the charming stranger, but he breaks her heart and she retains the emotional scars. Nico suspects something is going on when Jan and Rita come to dinner out of the blue. But it's only when the older Laura (Mònica Van Campen) recognises Jan that he realises Violeta has issues and that they can only be resolved at the beach-house where they used to stay.


Ending on a downbeat that doesn't make total sense without access to the dialogue, this is a brooding melodrama that is given its tone by the sombre performance of Alex Brendemühl. The flashbacks are capably integrated, although the kitten-drowning sequence seems a bit gratuitous, as is much of the nudity, which begins with a scene of Verónica Echegui teasing a client on an online sex site. There also seems little reason why Anna Alarcón has to peruse a file of documents in the bath when she could have all the privacy she requires in her office.


Writing with Guillem Sala, Clara Roquet and Sandra Beltrán, Durall capably conveys the torment of lost love. He also makes effective contrasts between the simplicity of the beach romance and the complexity of modern living. Yet, despite Anna Alarcón's intense performance, this treatise on emotional baggage and rewriting history never catches light.


OJOS NEGROS


Echoes of Victor Erice's El Sur (1993) and Carla Simon's Summer 1993 (20170 reverberate around Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo's charming coming-of-age saga, Ojos Negros. A degree project that attracted festival attention in its native Spain, this is featurette was co-written by classmates Iván Alarcón and Sandra García and made with the support of tutors Jonás Trueba, Mar Coll and Clara Roquet. It's also something of a family affair, as teenage lead Julia Lallana is the younger sister of one of the directors.


First seen eavesdropping on an argument between her parents, Paula (Marta Lallana) is dismayed when pregnant mother Celia (Raquel Vicente) sends her to spend the holidays in the Aragonese pueblo of Ojos Negros with her Aunt Elba (Ana Sabate) and her grandmother (Ines Paricio). She enjoys feeding the chickens. playing with the dog and going for bike rides through the spectacular countryside. But. as she comes to dread the ominous silences of mealtimes, Paula realises that her grandmother is old and frail and that her aunt has never forgiven Celia for an incident in the past.


Much to her relief, Paula bumps into Alicia (Alba Alcaine), who is also spending the summer away from home. She is more emotionally mature and socially experienced than the 13 year-old, who quickly falls under her spell, as the pair disappear for hours to chat and swim in the lake. They even allow Elba's dog to run away and slip away from the religious procession taking place in the town. Paula also has her first period and gains an insight into the interconnection between life and death. Moreover, she learns about her mother's past and begins to feel the first stirrings of love. But she is also aware that the summer is coming to an end and that she might never see Alicia again.


Anyone who has forged a holiday friendship will recognise the adolescent emotions experienced by the naive young woman at the centre of this enchanting story. Guided by her sibling, Julia Lallana excels as the town mouse being exposed to ideas, sensations and feelings from which she has been protected by her mother. But she is splendidly supported by Alba Alcaine. whose worldly wisdom touchingly contrasts with her new friend's innocence.


Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo may not stray far from the familiar byways of rite of passagery, while a couple of incidents strain credulity. But they handle their young actors with tact and are not afraid of using silence as a means of communication. Indeed, the sound mix achieved by Eloy Rodriguez de la Rosa, Claudi Dosta Ivanow and Roger Navarro is almost as affecting as Raül Refree's score. Similarly, cinematographer Jorge Basterretxea's painterly landscapes and intimate close-ups gain considerably from the delicately paced editing of Victor Xavier Monzó and Nila Nuñez. Consequently, while this meticulous miniature may lack thematic originality, it certainly suggests its makers have enormous potential.


EL SITIO DE OTTO.


Oriol Puig is best known in Spain as a television actor. But he makes a solid transition to feature directing with El Sitio de Otto/A Place For Otto. Filmed in 15 days in the Bajo Ebre region of southern Catalonia, this is a thoughtful study of the options facing millennials in small rural towns and the extent to which their lives are shaped by social and religious traditions that mean little or nothing to them.


Having just lost his father, twentysomething Otto (Iñaki Mur) is left alone with his mother, mother (Nora Navas). She dispproves of his relationship with girlfriend, Erica (Emma Arquillué), and has even less to do with neighbour, Nola (Joana Vilapuig), who is a blonde, unmarried mother to be. Unable to find a job, Otto hangs around with pals, César (Artur Busquets), Lynette (Carla Pueyo), Simón (Pau Escobar) and Ruth (Irene Trullén). One night, they daub the word `vagabond' on the caravan belonging to Roy (Oriol Vila), but Otto feels guilty and wipes it off after the outsider explains that he has a right to live how and where he likes.


Nola is intrigued by the fact that Otto writes things down in a notebook and takes him to see a wooden jetty where they laze in the sun. César wants Otto to help him shoot some dogs that have escaped from the pound, but he fails to show up after crashing at Roy's caravan after being asked what he wants to do with his life. The thought is still rattling around in his head when he joins his pals at the beach. But he feels dislocated and is surprised to find Nola at the caravan when he visits Roy during a downpour. She urges him to spread his wings and not to be afraid of being alone. However, Erica is hurt when Otto decides not to sleep with her and his mother warns him that nothing good will come of consorting with Nola.


Having caused a scene because he is jealous of Elliott (Adrian Grösser) for chatting up Erica, Otto goes hunting with César. His mind isn't on the job, however, as Nola has just told him she is leaving town. But he suspects she hasn't gone alone when he realises that Roy's caravan has left the woods and he fights back tears after running home to find that Nola has moved out. Later that day, César finds Otto near the place where his father had timed him holding his breath under water as a boy. He reassures his friend he'll be fine and the film ends on a close-up of Otto cycling with purpose through the trees.


The theoretical father of Italian neo-realism, Cesare Zavattini, once opined that the perfect film would depict a day in the life of a man to whom nothing happens. In his first feature, Oriol Puig enters into this spirit, with a study of a youth standing at the crossroads that plays out in a leisurely manner that reflects the pace of small-town provincial life. As played with blank gangliness by Iñaki Mur, Otto has only just realised that there is more to life than chilling with his friends and the discovery excites and unsettles him in equal measure.


Mur contributed to the screenplay, along with Artur Busquets and Joana Vilapuig, which feels rooted in a reality that is both reassuring and stifling. Agnès Piqué Corbera's camera captures the locale by juxtaposing long shots with close-ups of Mur's rapt face. while editor Guiu Vallvé and sound designer Martí Albert lull him into the false sense of security from which he can't quite decide whether he wants to escape. The characterisation is sketchy, the existential drama patchy. But this has a rhythm and a rationale that leave an impression.


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