|the international federation of film critics|
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San Sebastian 2005
Good Times: Spanish and Latin American Films
|"The Holy Family"|
|"The Hours Go By"|
|"Enlightened by Fire"|
|"The Taxi Thief"|
"Are you a Catholic", a young woman asks her
lover's father. The immediate response is: "All Chilean people
are Catholics. Are you?" A wealthy Chilean Family is going to
celebrate Easter in their house on the beach when their only son announces
that his first official girlfriend will take part as well. What, in
the beginning, promises to be a perfect family weekend in harmony all
too soon becomes a subtle psychological drama unveiling the gaps and
conflicts between different generations in Chilean society. The
Holy Family (La Sagrada familia), the first feature film of young
Chilean director Sebastián Campos, shot in three days and based
on a dialogue-less script of only ten pages, was one of twelve movies
in the Latin American section in the San Sebastian festival "Horizontes
This presentation of Latin American films traditionally
gives special consideration to new trends in creativity and selection
of content. One example for this is The Hours Go By (Cómo
pasan las horas), the second feature film of Argentinean director Inés
de Oliveira Cézar. It is a dramatic family story, which manages
to create a whole, poetic universe by using space, time, light, and
the ebb and flow of the tides in its own particular way.
Headstrong, intense documentaries were also highly represented
this year. Black Bull (Toro negro), for instance, which received
an award at the "Horizontes Latinos", illustrates the life
and death of bullfighter Fernando Pacheco in the Maya Region of south-western
Mexico. What is most remarkable about this film is the way it sticks
close to its main protagonist. The same is also true for Mercedes Moncada's The
Inmortal (El Inmortal), an impressive documentation about a family
torn apart by the Nicaraguan civil war.
Many films shown at the festival had already been aired
in recent years in the series "En Construcción", a
collaborative forum for movies in an advanced stage of production.
Of these, Tristán Bauer's Enlightened by Fire (Iluminados
por el fuego) was awarded the Special Jury Prize in the official section.
The Argentinean director, who is a long-standing guest of this festival,
tells about the suicide of a Falklands veteran as a result of the gaping
wounds in Argentinean society during the last months of military dictatorship
in 1982. But the war itself and the development of the protagonists
are covered in an, all too often, superficial way. The old "buddy" stereotypes
of so-called "anti-war movies" are still predominant, as
is the jingoistic idea of a just and righteous war.
The second Argentinean entry to the contest, The
Aura (El Aura) is the story of an armed robbery on a
money transporter gone horribly wrong. By setting it before the
backdrop of dark and gloomy woodlands, director Fabián Bielinsky
manages to create an almost magical atmosphere in what could have
otherwise been a one-dimensional genre film.
Spanish and Latin American films have been the festival's
main focus for twelve years now. This year, there were four Spanish
films represented in the contest - a rather strong presence but unconvincing
all the same, given how the films were hovering somewhere between the
forged style of the typical Spanish author film and a conceited pose
of elegant irrelevance.
Obaba, based on a novel bearing the same name
and written by the successful Basque author Bernardo Atxaga, tells
about a young female film student who intends to document the daily
life in this unique village and eventually loses herself between the
episodes. Obaba was the opening movie of the festival, and
this was mostly out of political considerations: a Spanish film based
on a Basque cult novel and created by a director from Navarra, which
has its stylistic roots in the critical authors' films of the late
70s (the last years of dictatorship), is a clear cultural sign for
the beginning dialogue between the Socialist government in Madrid and
Basque nationalists over ending terrorism and the future statute of
the Basque country. Yet, this project about dealing with the past,
laid out very much like a choral by its director Montxo Armendáriz,
unfortunately loses pace between rural garrulity and what could have
been pointing to the unspoken legacy, repressed past and ossified structures
of an agonising dictatorship – if only it had been done 30 years
ago. Today, the film comes across as aesthetically conceited, waveringly
vague and atmospherically thin. Only the character of the German engineer,
played by Peter Lohmeyer, gives some palpable evidence of the political
background of the exile.
Alberto Rodríguez' 7 Virgins (7
vírgenes) is about two friends living in the poorer suburbs
of Sevilla. Even though it is a quite refreshing film and the 17-year-old
actor Juan José Ballesta was awarded the "Concha de Plata" (Silver
Shell) for best male actor, 7 Virgins is somewhat
reminiscent of Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa's second
feature film Barrio, which received the "Concha de Plata" for
best direction in 1997.
Hard Times (Malas temporadas) describes
the different paths of different protagonists living in Madrid and
lost between immigration and depression. All too soon, though, the
film itself becomes lost between emotionalising and emotional blunting.
The fourth Spanish film, Sud express, by Chema de la Peña
and Gabriel Velázquez combines stories of love and despair,
parting and restart on the tracks of the legendary railway connecting
Paris and Lisbon.
All four Spanish competition entries rely on political
and social backdrops, but what they also have in common is a lack of
willingness to risk anything aesthetically or content-wise.
In the "Open Zone", on the other hand, there have been quite a few surprises: In his film The Taxi Thief (El Taxista ful), Catalan director Jordi Sol tells the story of a taxi driver who suddenly finds himself under the wheels of justice and ends up in the squatter scene of Barcelona . As a feigned documentary, The Taxi Thief brilliantly plays with perception and reality. Another, no less fascinating play between reality and the reconstruction of the past takes place in The Magicians (La doble vida del faquír), a piece about the reconstruction of an amateur film shot in a orphanage in 1937. By interviewing contemporary witnesses, the makers of this documentary, Elizabet Cabeza and Esteve Riambau, manage to paint a fascinating and vivid picture of the Civil War years, which is quite different from all the one-dimensional and monolithic attempts at historical remembrance bound to take place in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War's outbreak on 18th July, 2006.
San Sebastian '05