Category Archives: Spanish Films

Spanish Film Festival 2021: While at War

Based on true events, this is the story of the Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno, rector of the University of Salamanca during the first months of Franco’s Nationalist government. Although previously left-leaning, he was disillusioned by the disorder of the Republican government, and he gives increasingly luke-warm support to the Nationalists. But when his friends fall victim to the Nationalists, he changes his mind and takes a stance. Franco is depicted as a rather diffident leader who nonetheless is playing a long game while the war hero Millán-Astray is seen to be driving events and whipping up passions. It made me think about how support for a political party of any persuasion can take you to places and stances beyond your comfort zone, and the line between inconsistency and a considered change of position. I’d never heard of Miguel de Unamuno, or this event – but then again, I’m constantly being confronted with things that I know nothing about!

Although the Spanish Film Festival has now finished in Melbourne, there’s an extra showing of While at War on 16th May at the Kino.

My rating: 8/10

Con subtítulos en español: Después de…

This was quite different from the other films that I have seen screened through the Instituto Cervantes. It’s a two-part documentary about the political rift in Spanish society in the 1980s, in the years after the death of Franco and just before the 1981 military coup. The film makers go into the streets and to political rallies, interviewing people – just ordinary people. Actually, it reminded me a bit of America today: a society completely divided, interpreting events in starkly different ways. No wonder there was a coup just after they had finished filming, because the pro-Franco forces, including the Church, were still very prominent. There’s no real plot to it. Instead, it moves from one group to another in a chapter-like format. Interesting as a piece of social and political history.

With subtitles in English: Guarani

SBS’ Latin American film festival finishes tonight, and I just finished watching Guarani.

Lots of images of slow water flowing past with trains, boats, cars etc. moving from one side of the screen to the other. The plot, such as it is, is that a young girl has been left with her grandfather and aunts in Paraguay while she moves to Buenos Aires. The young girl accompanies her taciturn grandfather fishing along the Paraná River, while grieving the absence of her mother. The grandfather refuses to speak Spanish, proud of his indigenous Guarani heritage and determined to pass it on. When the mother writes to say that she is pregnant with a baby boy, the grandfather decides that he wants to go to Buenos Aires to bring his daughter home, so that his grandson will be born in Paraguay and can be inculcated into the river-based culture of his family. He and his granddaughter take off for distant Buenos Aires, walking much of it, working on a tobacco farm to earn the money to catch a train, and finally arrive at Buenos Aires. In the end…well, I have no idea what the end meant.

That’s an hour and a half that I have lost forever. Beautiful scenery though.

My rating: 6/10

With subtitles in English: Javier’s Passion

This film will be on SBS On Demand until the end of April. It’s based on the life of the Peruvian poet Javier Heraud who died, aged 21, in Bolivia when leading a group of Cuban-inspired revolutionaries who were returning to Peru to foment revolution there too. He was obviously a brilliant student, who dropped out of law to take up literature, travelled to Russia and Paris, then to Cuba on a scholarship to study Film. It’s beautifully filmed, with subtitles in English (and fairly easy-to-follow Spanish).

Spanish Film Festival 2021: Rosa’s Wedding

I enjoyed this SO much: it’s a light, feel-good movie that leaves you feeling such affection for all the characters. Rosa is turning 45 and is feeling – and dammit, she IS – put upon by her father, daughter and especially her siblings who all find themselves too busy to consider her. She finally decides to do something for herself. It’s Spanish and the Spanish was much too fast for me to follow. A certain suspension of disbelief is required, but it’s a really happy film.

My rating: 9/10 !!

With subtitles in English: Rey (2017)

SBS has had a ‘festival’ of Latin American movies on their On-Demand service since 1 February 2021 and of course, I’m only watching them now that they are due to expire at the end of April. Obviously my ‘last minute’ film excursions apply just as much to movies on television as they do at the cinema.

On one level ‘Rey’ is the story Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, a French lawyer who went to South America, claiming in 1860 that the Mapuche natives had elected him ruler of Araucanía and Patagonia. He was arrested by the Chilean authorities, declared insane and sent back to France. He actually made several trips, trying to claim his kingdom, but each time he was sent back to France, where he died penniless. Check out the Wikipedia entry – what an incredible story!

This movie is really strange, and obviously the film-maker had a great time making it. It uses recovered, damaged film – bearing a close resemblance to Australia’s Ned Kelly movie- interspersed with fevered, dreamlike, hallucinogenic sequences. I found it quite unsettling, and almost scary in its sheer weirdness. It reminded me a bit of the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, or for an utterly banal pop reference, Julieta Venegas’ film clip for ‘Limon y Sal’.

You can read a review of the film by someone who knows what they were looking at here. It’s saying something about history, memory and colonialism but I’m not really sure quite what.

Con subtítulos en español: Función de Noche (Night Function) 1981

This one really stretched me.It felt a bit like a stage play, with a long-separated couple raking over the ashes of their failed marriage. There was a lot of dialogue, and I frequently had to stop to look up words. But it was brilliantly acted, especially the female lead Lola Herrera – in fact, I don’t know if it even was acted, because the actors played themselves. It felt like a constructed documentary. Perhaps I should have watched it with the English subtitles instead.

Con subtítulos en español: El crimen de Cuenca (1979)

Based on a true story, this film is set in 1910 when two men are accused of the murder of another man in their village. There is no body and no evidence and at first the case lapses, with the man declared only “missing”. Two years later, a new judge arrives in town and despite their “vehement denials”, the two men are arrested and tortured. This was pretty violent – especially when I had to keep looking to read the subtitles to see what they were screaming. Anyway, eventually the missing man turned up after the two men had narrowly escaped execution to serve many years in jail. It was a good film but (shudder) too violent for me. It is a very famous film, and was originally banned for two year, even though it was a democratic government at that time. Once it was released it achieved great success.

Con subtítulos en español: Las Cosas del Querer (1989)

(The Things of Love)

Instituto Cervantes has been featuring a number of films that star Angela Molina. This year she has been awarded the Goya Prize of Honour by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was born in 1955 and made her film debut in 1975. She is still making films, now as an “older woman”.

But she played a younger role in this 1989 film, set in Franco’s Spain. What a dour, bleak society that was- especially for women. She plays a singer, Pepita, who performs with the very handsome Mario. She is in a violent, unhappy relationship with their pianist Juan. Mario yearns for a relationship with Juan (I have no idea why), but Juan is not interested. Mario embarks on a string of casual relationships with other men, which eventually ends in tears.

There was a lot of singing in the movie, but the music didn’t particularly appeal to me. For some reason, it reminded me a bit of Cabaret. It had English and Spanish subtitles on Vimeo.

Con subtítulos en español: La Mitad del Cielo (1986)

As part of their celebration of the Spanish actress Angela Molina, Instituto Cervantes has been streaming her films for 48 hours. In this film, Molina plays Rosa, a young woman who leaves her much-loved grandmother and her remote village in order to marry a young knife-grinder who ends up being a swindler. He dies in prison, and Rosa and her young daughter move to Madrid. She gradually works her way out of poverty and opens a restaurant.

But the REAL star of this show I thought was Margarita Lozano, who played the grandmother. She looked at her granddaughter and great-granddaughter with such love. And these shoes! Abuela (grandmother) clomped around in these shoes, in the village and then in Madrid when she came to stay with her granddaughter. They are wooden pattens, worn by peasants across Europe from the 12th century onwards, to protect your feet from the mud. (You can learn more about pattens from the Two Nerdy History Girls here).