Category Archives: Spanish Films

Latin American Film Festival: La Palabra de Pablo

This film from El Salvador was loosely based on Othello in that we have one character stoking jealousy and distrust in another, and it doesn’t end well. Pablo’s father has recently taken up with a young girl who is almost his age, and in retribution for an earlier betrayal, Pablo convinces his father that his new lover has been unfaithful with his step-brother. We only learn about this childhood betrayal in cut-away shots that gradually become longer, allowing the viewer to finally make sense of this betrayal and its effect on Pablo. The whole family goes away to an island for a holiday, which provides a lot of striking scenery and a sense of mounting dread, where Pablo’s plan comes to an inevitable ending.

Latin American Film Festival: Viaje a Tombuctú

I could have done with a bit of historical background on this movie, set in Perú during the 1980s and 90s. Ana and Lucho are childhood sweethearts, and they continue as lovers in adulthood. She wants to be a film-maker, and they share a love of music, swapped via cassette tapes. However, their lives are blighted by the Shining Path movement (which I really don’t know much about) and the reprisals against it where armed militias terrorize the people. More and more young people leave Perú to travel to America and Europe or even Timbuktu – a dream that both Ana and Lucho had held since childhood- but it does not work out that way. The child actors seemed incompatible with the adult actors, and so I never really believed that they were the same characters, and at times the film seemed to be merely a vehicle for some retro music and staging of the 80’s and ’90s.

It was OK.

Latin American Film Festival: Leona

Ariela is a young Jewish woman living in Mexico City, working as a muralist. She is one of the last of her friendship group to be married, and her family is keen for her to marry a Jewish man from within the close-knit Jewish community. But when she falls in love with Ivan, who is not Jewish, she comes under intense pressure from her family and the community to break off with him. The lecturer introducing the movie explained that although there had always been Jews in Mexico, there was an influx of Jews from Syria in 1918 with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, and that they formed a tightly-held, exclusive and prosperous community in Mexico City. This was a lovely film, and the main actress was luminous. In many ways, it could have been set in any Jewish community throughout the world, but it was interesting to see this community in Mexico.

I enjoyed it.

Latin American Film Festival: El Empleado y el patron

The Latin-American Film Festival is being hosted at the University of Melbourne over the next two weeks- and it’s free!

I went to the opening film last night. The woman who presented the film emphasized the contemplative, reflective nature of Uruguayan films, and mentioned that the ending left open many questions. “Oh no!” I thought “Another film where nothing happens” but El Empleado y El Patron was not like that at all. There are two young men, each with a young baby. The first is the son of the wealthy plantation owner, who is given responsibility for bringing in the harvest of soybeans; the second is a farm worker who puts aside his dream of riding his horse in a long cross-country horse race to help bring in the harvest before the rains come. The young overseer is not your typical overseer: he is vegetarian, modern and desperately worried about his young baby son who is ill. Despite the apparent power imbalance, there is a shift after a tragedy occurs- although, as we were warned, there is no clear-cut resolution. I enjoyed it.

Con subtítulos en español: This film is about me

Well, it had subtitles in Spanish because I put them there. The soundtrack was actually in German and English, even though it was directed by a Spanish director. I almost gave up after 10 minutes of looking close up – VERY close up!- at a woman with heavily mascaraed eyes and a slash of red lipstick, with a halo of blonde curls in what looked like a shawl. It’s strange that after all this time on Zoom, we are accustomed to staring at faces in a way that we probably would not do in real life, but nonetheless, staring at this woman felt very intrusive. She is in jail for murder, but she is also in her own rather ethereal performance of her own life. I’m glad that I stayed with it, but I’m also glad that it only went for an hour. Being in the presence of such a strong ego, so intimately, is confronting.

It was available through Instituto Cervantes for 48 hours.

Con subtítulos en español: Violeta no coge el ascensor (2020)

It’s always a bit of a problem when you’re watching a movie that is referencing a movie you haven’t seen. This recent Spanish film is a remake of ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’ a mumblecore film that starred Greta Gerwig. Actually, looking at the English trailer for ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’, the two are very similar.

Nothing much happens in this film, set during summer in Spain, when a young girl is an intern at a publishing house. She shares an office with two men, both of whom are in love with her. Which is she going to choose?

With subtitles in English: Antonio Machado. Los días azules

I just loved this documentary. I had never heard of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, which probably speaks volumes about my ignorance of Spanish literature. He was part of the generation of ’98 and was forced into exile in Franco’s Spain. The documentary is beautifully filmed, and it features a range of ‘talking heads’ including academics, writers and biographers. He ended up being buried in France, and there has been talk of exhuming his body to return it to France, but it has become a place of pilgrimage for many whose parents and grandparents were Civil War refugees and whose burial places are unknown. It was part of the Instituto Cervantes Pelikula festival.

With subtitles in English: Oscuro y Lucientes

Continuing on with Instituto Cervantes’ Pelikula Film Festival, I watched this documentary about Goya’s head. You might have thought that it was safely ensconced with the rest of his body, but no. When they exhumed 30 years after his burial in 1828 in France in order to repatriate his remains to Spain, the body was there, but not the head! This documentary traces some various theories for what happened to it, but it has never been resolved. Nor found, either for that matter. Here’s a short review of the documentary in English.

With subtitles in English: El Cover

Instituto Cervantes is currently running its Pelikula Film Festival during the first week of October. The movies are spoken in Spanish with only English subtitles available. It is running in Australia, The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. The tickets are free.

El Cover (2021) is set in Benidorm, on the Spanish coast. Remind me not to go there: full of high rise buildings and British tourists. Dani works in a restaurant as a waiter/short order cook, part of the resident workforce catering for tourists who come for a good time frequenting bars and ‘tribute’ shows. He meets two girls, Adele and Amy who are impersonators (of Adele and Amy Winehouse) and tentatively launches on his own career which has been overshadowed by the influence of his own, now deceased, entertainer parents. There’s a lot of music in this film- it threatened to turn into a musical- and the plot line was a bit thin. Perhaps I’m too old. Though not as old as some of the washed-up Rod Stewart and Lisa Minnelli impersonators.

Con subtítulos en español: Camila (1984)

This film (available through YouTube) is based on the true story of Camila O’Gorman, the daughter of an upper-class family in Buenos Aires who was executed at the age of 23 for an affair with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Ladislao Gutiérrez. They were both executed under the orders of the tyranical governor Juan Manuel de Rosas, and with the encouragement of her own father. The film is a bit dated and the auto-generated subtitles are appalling, but the Spanish wasn’t too fast and I could follow it. In fact, I even had a little tear in my eye when it finished!