by GREG KING.
Screens at Palace Cinemas The Kino Cinemas, Palace Westgarth, Palace Cinema Como from 22 April, 2015 – 10 May, 2015. This year’s Spanish Film Festival program boasts 38 features from across Spain, Latin-America, and beyond. The Festival will open with Emilio Martínez-Lázaro’s SPANISH AFFAIR, starring popular stand-up comic and presenter Dani Rovira, and the charming Clara Lago. The film fast became a must-see in Spain and was seen by over two million people in the fortnight following its release in Spain.
ALL REVIEWS BY GREG KING
LAST UPDATED APRIL 20, 2015
THEY’RE ALL DEAD.
The debut feature film from writer/director Beatriz Sanchis, They’re All Dead is part ghost story, part comedy, part coming of age tale and part dysfunctional family drama. It stars Elena Anaya (who will be a guest of the festival) as Lupe, who used to play in popular 80s band Groenlandia with her brother Diego (Nahuel Perez Biscayart, from Glue, etc). But after Diego was killed in a car accident, Lupe has withdrawn into a solitary existence, afraid to even leave the house. She has abrogated all responsibility for the care of her teenage son Pancho (newcomer Christian Bernal) to her superstitious mother Paquita (Angelica Aragon). On the annual Day of the Dead celebration, though Paquita requests help from a local witch, and a ghostly Diego mysteriously reappears. His presence initially troubles Lupe, but eventually he helps her reconnect with life and learn to move on. This is a gently paced film handled with great sense of compassion and sympathy by Sanchis. She elicits some great performances from her cast. Bernal brings a sense of vulnerability and angst to his performance as Pancho, who is confused about his own sexuality when he meets handsome musician Victor (Patrick Criado). Veteran Mexican actress Aragon is fabulous and feisty and wise as the formidable family matriarch. And Anaya is good as the damaged Lupe, and she brings a wonderful anguish and palpable pain to her performance.
The closing night film is the wonderful, twisted and blackly funny Wild Tales, from director Damian Szifron, which has been a massive hit in its native country and also Argentina’s official entry for the Foreign Language Oscar. It is a portmanteau of six diverse short stories, all of which deal with ordinary characters pushed to the brink, and they are linked by common themes of revenge, obsession, murder, and frustration with everyday life.
The highlight is a tale involving a road rage incident that escalates and gets wildly out of hand. There is another superb tale involving an engineer (played by Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin) who gets frustrated as his car is continually being towed, and his battles with the bureaucracy over the situation appear to go nowhere. This segment and its sense of slow building frustration and impotence in the face of bureaucracy will remind many of the Michael Douglas/Joel Schumacher film Falling Down. Then there is the wealthy family facing a crisis after their son is involved in a fatal hit and run accident. Their response allows Szifron to explore issues of class, status, justice and corruption in modern Argentina.
There is also a wedding reception that goes pear shaped after the bride learns of the groom’s infidelities. This final sequence is shot in the fashion of the Dogma-style of filmmaking pioneered by Lars von Trier – it uses natural light, long takes, and unforced naturalistic performances. But it does seem to go on a little too long. But it is the opening sequence that cuts close to the bone, and will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows. This story of a psychotic pilot and a plane load of passengers is eerily prescient of the Germanwings plane incident from a couple of months ago.
Unlike a lot of anthology films though which are often uneven in style and tone, Wild Tales benefits from a consistency of tone thanks to it being the work of a single filmmaker. Director Szifron maintains a fairly consistent and anarchic tone throughout, and the six vignettes are shaped by his dark sense of humour and social conscience. There is not a dud episode amongst the six vignettes. The film was produced by Pedro Almodovar, and his influence on the material is also obvious.
The multi-award winning Marshland was one of the highlights of the recent Spanish Film Festival. This is a rather grim and dark police thriller set in a rural area of Andalucia in the south of Spain. It takes place in 1980, which was a time of great transition for Spain as it moved from the brutal dictatorship of the Franco era to a more democratic government. Not everyone enthusiastically embraced the change though.
A pair of detectives are sent to the small village of Villafranco del Guadalquivir to investigate the disappearance of a couple of young girls who were last seen getting into a car with a stranger after a fiesta. The two girls had quite a local reputation for being free and easy going. But when they turn up dead, their bodies horribly mutilated, it seems that a brutal serial killer is at work.
The two cops themselves are a study in contrasts that reflect the changes occurring in Spain. Juan (played by Javier Gutierrez, a veteran better known for his comedic roles) is the veteran cop whose methods reflect the repressive mentality of the former regime, and he prefers to beat information out of suspects, while his tyro partner Pedro (Raul Arevalo, from I’m So Excited, etc) is a more patient, analytical investigator with a more methodical approach. The contrast between the two creates plenty of tension, and they must find a way to put aside their differences and their mistrust and learn to work together to find a vicious killer before he strikes again.
The investigation uncovers plenty of small town corruption, dirty secrets, a small pornography ring, and drug smuggling. The town is still living in the past, and there is a general apathy towards the two detectives. The film reaches a tense climax at a remote and abandoned farmhouse. Cinematographer Alex Catalan captures some beautiful, stark and striking images. Marshland has been scripted by the director Alberto Rodriguez and his regular collaborator Rafael Cobos, who slowly tease out the details. Rodriguez’s previous film was the crime drama Unit 7, which explored some similar themes.
The unique setting and the unsettling topography of the nearby swamplands adds to the brooding atmosphere of the film, which is reminiscent in tone to the films of David Fincher, and it lifts the material above the formulaic genre conventions.
This thriller is tough going, with a strong misogynistic streak and a few moments of graphic violence. However, this atmospheric and tense but satisfying crime drama also seems like perfect fodder for a Hollywood remake.