Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Week in Review, La Mirada

  • Trois couleurs: Bleu (Three Colors: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1981*)
  • El extraño viaje (Strange Voyage, Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1964^)
  • Alatriste (Agustín Díaz Yanes, 2006)
  • Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, 2005)
  • El verdugo (The Executioner, Luis García Berlanga, 1963)
* Premiered in 1987, delayed due to communist censorship
^ Premiered in 1971, delayed due to fascist censorship

  • A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovóvar (Mark Allinson, 2001)
It's been a week of extraordinary films, the highlight being the Kieslowski double as described in my earlier post. I'll be definitely seeing the remaining Kieslowski films on for the next three weeks.

Strange Voyage, Alatriste and The Executioner screened as part of La Mirada - Jewels of Spanish Cinema. I'd intended to see the Astor screenings of Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944) and All About Eve (Joseph Mankiewicz, 1950), but opted for The Executioner at the last minute, as I felt this would be my only opportunity to see it on the big screen. I'm interested to see Mankiewicz's film in the context of its reference by Almodóvar's All About My Mother. It'll have to wait for another Astor screening or else DVD.

Strange Voyage was fascinating for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact that the fascist censors banned it. Quite lame by today's standards, it depicts a woman dancing the twist in a raunchy manner, a cross-dressing male, murder and more.

The film employs Hitchcock-like suspense and imagery with a blend of humour, frivolity and drama that clearly has been inspirational to Pedro Almodóvar's work. It looks like a film he would have made at the time. It was programmed by him for the festival, and La Mirada has posted his comments about its selection.

Alatriste is a major epic and Spain's most expensive film (a 20th Century Fox production), and stars an impressive and obviously multi-lingual Viggo Mortensen. At two and a half hours, I found the film overly long and the narrative was not well measured. I'm not a big fan of the epic war genre, and there's only so much killing and slashing that I can take - I was pretty restless for the last 30 minutes. It was, however, well made and fans of the genre would love it. And Mortensen wear a fantastic hat!

The Executioner is reputedly Spain's most critically acclaimed film of all time. It wasn't my pick of La Mirada, but is an entertaining and skillfully made dark comedy. It's about an undertaker who falls for an executioner's daughter who inadvertently and unwillingly follows his father-in-law's trade.

Employing gallows humour, it also appears to be a subtle critique of the Franco regime. Too subtle for the censors of the time, apparently. Fortunately, I had already seen Salvador (Puig Antich) at La Mirada last week, which showed in detail how a garrotting is performed (and it is damned barbaric - medieval in nature), so some of the implied meaning was not lost on me. Particularly poignant was the executioner looking at his son-in-law's neck and stating his shirt size.

For a small film festival, La Mirada has made an impressive debut. It has been exceptionally well organised, with several government and corporate sponsors, and the patronage of Almodóvar himself. At the beginning of each session there have been multiple audience prizes such as books on Spanish cinema, CDs, restaurant vouchers and more. The organisers have gone to great pains to receive feedback from audiences for further improvements. I've been very impressed with the festival and its organisation and look forward to the festival's return next year.

I had heard good things about Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation so was disappointed to learn that it wasn't getting a cinema release here. The Astor had a single screening of it this afternoon so I made a point of attending. Maybe I just didn't get it because I was, unfortunately, disappointed. It seemed inane. I also didn't see the point of filming in black and white.

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