For me, one of the few comforts of winter is knowing that I can take my mind, if not my body, to warmer climes with the Spanish Film Festival. Now in its 16th year, there's always a diverse mix of films to enjoy.
Screening at the Palace cinemas, this year's festival takes in Canberra and Byron Bay, as well as the usual Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth circuit.
In recent years Spain has built a reputation for producing great thrillers and this explains why many of the festival's highlights this year are representative of the genre.
I'm particularly excited about seeing The Body. Directed by Oriol Paulo, who wrote the chilling Julia's Eyes, it features that film's star, Belen Rueda along with Hugo Silva, who manages to pop up somewhere in a festival film every year. This can only be a good thing. The Body has been praised for it's genre smarts and slick production design and proved a big box office hit at home earlier this year.
Luis Tosar and Ricardo Darin in A Gun In Each Hand (Una Pistola En Cada Mano)
Another title which has been a commercial and critical success in Spain is A Gun In Each Hand. It's the festival's opening night film, which means you can enjoy drinks, tapas and live entertainment at the post-screening party. Unlike a lot of film festivals though, the film screens a few days later, so you have the chance to see it at the regular price without all the trimmings. Gun stars the versatile Luis Tosar, who's becoming a bit of a national treasure in Spain, and Argentine, Ricardo Darin, star of Nine Queens and The Secret In Their Eyes. It's probably the best reviewed film of the festival and thoroughly deserving of Opening Night status.
Closing night film continues a recent film festival trend of screening an old classic - in this case, Tristana. Directed by one of the all-time greats, Luis Bunuel, it's a glorious piece of surrealism showcasing the director's favourite themes of religion, sex and politics, and starring screen royalty Catherine Denueve.
Between opening and closing nights there's a fortnight (in most cities) of goodies to choose from. Other genre treats include The End, starring Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) with a screenplay by the writers of The Impossible and The Orphanage. It promises oodles of suspense and intrigue. Police thriller Operation E also looks the goods, with grit and action a-plenty.
Aida Folch in The Artist and the Model (El Artista Y La Modelo)
Oscar winning director Fernando Trueba (La Belle Epoque) has his latest, The Artist and the Model, in the fest. Like most of his films, it's a very handsome looking historical drama, although this time in French. It stars the always entertaining Jean Roquefort and promises to be a fest favourite.
For younger tastes, there's I Want You, which has been a huge hit back home. It's a romantic comedy of sorts featuring a cast of suitably attractive early twenty-somethings.
Documentaries, dramas and comedies complete the line-up - mostly titles from Spain, although there's a healthy showing of Argentine films and a handful of French and Mexican co-productions on offer.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Spanish film festival without a few rounds of drinks and tapas served up at special events. You can view the details of these and all the screenings here
Despite the fact that Spain produces a consistent number of good films each year, seldom do they get a theatrical release in Australia. So unlike the French Film Festival, this will be your only chance to see most of these titles on the big screen.
Cost:Single Tickets: Palace Members $15, Concession $16.50, Full Price $19.50. Five Film Pass: Palace Members $65, Full Price $75, Opening Night Film: Palace Members $50, Full Price $55, Closing Night Film: Palace Members $22, Full Price $26