Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
The best in new Spanish language cinema
At first glance it may have seemed like a quiet year in Spanish cinema. There were few international breakouts in terms of awards or box office success, but as the line-up for this year's Spanish Film Festival indicates, there is plenty of quality new cinema to be enjoyed from Spain and Spanish speaking countries.
A scene from The Amazing Catfish (Los Insolitos Peces Gato)
The opening and closing night films this year are both crowd-pleasers that have been big hits in Spain. Opening night film Living Is Easy WIth Your Eyes Closed (Vivir Es Facil Con Los Ojos Cerrados) is a nostalgic, rites of passage road movie. It stars the inimitable Javier Camara (Talk to Her) as an English teacher who uses the lyrics of Beatles songs to teach his students. The title is a line from Strawberry Fields Forever.
The festival's closing night film Witching and Bitching (Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi) is from iconic director Alex De La Iglesia. He's not known for holding back, with previous assaults on the senses including The Day of the Beast (El Dia de la Bestia) and Common Wealth (La Communidad). This is a typically irreverent romp about a couple of incompetent thieves who stumble upon a coven of witches. The film sees the re-teaming of two of the country's most desired pieces of man flesh, Hugo Silva and Mario Casas, co-stars of the long running TV series Los Hombres De Paco.
Mario Casas in closing night film Witching and Bitching (Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi)
In recent years Spain has consistently produced world class thrillers, and it's a track record that doesn't look like slowing down anytime soon. This year's program features a few genre titles, the best of which promises to be Cannibal. A slightly misleading title, but a fairly creepy, noir-ish, psychological thriller nonetheless. Be prepared to be disturbed.
Elsewhere in the festival it's fair to say the most promising films are actually Spanish / South American co-productions. A prime example is The Golden Cage (La Jaula De Oro). This looks to be a highlight not just of the festival but for the entire calendar year. First time Spanish director Diego Quemada-Diez won plenty of awards at festivals throughout 2013 for this drama about Guatemalan teenagers on a long trek to cross the border into the U.S. There have been many films about Hispanics and their struggle to immigrate to the promised land of America, it's a subject full of dramatic potential. This looks to be up with the best of them. It's had an enormous amount of praise heaped on it, and with the issues surrounding asylum seekers becoming more prominent in our headlines, this has the potential to really strike a chord.
Also attracting a fair bit of hype is Stockholm. This is a minimalist study of teenage love that slowly morphs into something quite unsettling. It's garnered a loyal following in Spain and is set to become an international cult favourite.
Another teen-centric film is Blue and Not So Pink (Azul Y No Tan Rosa), which deals with homophobia, domestic violence, transgenderism and a few other social issues. It won Spain's Goya Award for best Latin American film (although it's actually a co-production between Spain and Venezuela).
While most language based film festivals divide their titles into genre-based categories, the Spanish fest has eschewed that format this year, simply dividing the films into three sections: Films from Spain, International Co-Productions, and Films from Latin America. There may not be any documentaries, retro classics or films directly aimed at children, but the programmers seem to be striving for a consistency in quality rather than plating up a bit of everything. If industry reviews and festival awards are anything to go by, then they've certainly succeeded in that respect.
It's increasingly rare to see Spanish language films get a release in our cinemas, so more than ever, this will be your one and only chance to see most of these films on the big screen.
You can check out the full program at the festival's website