Category Archives: Spanish Films

My very own little socially distanced Spanish Film Festival #2

Well, it’s the 11th and so that’s the end of the Instituto Cervantes Festival Pelikula 2020. Not quite the same experience as being at the cinema but certainly very socially distanced. So distanced in fact, that I was all on my tod.

  1. El Cuadro. This is a documentary about the Velázquez painting ‘Las Meninas’. It is, in effect, a talking-heads documentary, with the reflections of various art-historians and curators (both Spanish and American) discussing this famous painting. It is divided into different chapters, interspersed with puppet images. It is a very imaginative and engaging way of presenting a documentary about a picture which, let’s face it, doesn’t have a lot of action as such. Certainly, you’ll see much more in ‘Las Meninas’ after viewing this documentary. Sorry- no English subtitles in the trailer.

2. Mudar la piel. Another documentary, produced by the daughter of the real life Juan Gutiérrez who acted as a secret mediator between ETA and the Spanish Government. Juan was assisted by Roberto, who ended up being exposed as a Secret Service spy after he betrayed his friend Juan and his role in the negotiations. Now his daughter Ana wants to make a documentary about the reunion of the two men, which her father agreed to – surely only out of love for his daughter- but which Roberto had qualms about. No wonder. I found myself becoming really annoyed at the naivete and intrusiveness of the daughter. I read Berta Isla recently, which was also about the ‘back story’ of a spy, and it seems to me that no-one in the secret service, even one who had ‘gone rogue’ as Roberto did, would ever agree to this documentary.

3. Asamblea. A satire of a very earnest group of people who meet together to ratify a decision (never explained) that is about to go to the Board (likewise never explained). The facilitator is very keen to get it approved, but the group resists, unwilling to rubber stamp a decision that will be made without their consent anyway. It’s like every deadly, politically correct, jargon-laden meeting that you have ever endured.

4. Arima. I’m not sure that I really know what happened here, but there is a group of women living in a small Spanish village whose lives are disrupted by two (?) strangers. A single mother lives with her daughter, who keeps running away and saying that she sees a ghost. The single mother becomes involved with a man, David, who is new to the village, who may or may not be a member of what seems to be a strange sex club. He seems to spend a lot of time running around in the dark with a gun and two savage dogs- or is that the other man? Or are they the same man? Meanwhile, the daughter is often minded by another woman, whose brother disappeared in the forest years ago, and who seems to be haunted by him. I have no idea what it all means, but it was very atmospheric and rather scary.

I really enjoyed my little Spanish Film Festival, even though all of the subtitles were in English which didn’t benefit my Spanish much. Can’t say I understood all the films, but I enjoyed the experience.

My very own little socially distanced Spanish Film Festival #1

I live in Melbourne, and we have been locked down over two separate periods. The first lockdown from about 24 March lasted until 12 May. The second, much more onerous one started on 9 July and is still in force in October. These are the things I miss most:

  • Seeing my children and grandchildren (although for the last fortnight we’ve been able to see them outside as long as there are only 5 of us, and within 5 km of home).
  • Being able to catch up with friends at a cafe with good coffee in a real cup and food on a china plate (Why, oh why, didn’t I do more of this in the interregnum between the two lockdowns?)
  • Going to the cinema (they opened briefly on a reduced scale, then shut again).

Numbers 1 and 2 I will jump at, as soon I have the chance, but I don’t know when I’ll feel confident to return to the cinema again. The idea of sitting in the dark, someone either side of me, and people coughing and sniffing as they inevitably do, really creeps me out.

I always look forward to the Spanish Film Festival and the Latin American Film Festival, which screen at the nearby Westgarth Palace Cinema. Neither festival occurred this year, but I’ve been enjoying the Instituto Cervantes Festival Pelikula 2020 which is being screened online for free! The films are only available in Australia, Phillipines and Thailand for free, and they only screen for 24 hours. They are subtitled in English – unfortunately, not in Spanish because I like the challenge of reading Spanish subtitles. The festival runs between 3 and 11 October so there are still a couple of days and films left.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  1. The Reconquest. Actually, I don’t think that this was part of the Pelikula festival, but it was time limited. Who knows how I got to know of it. It’s about two 30-somethings who keep the promise that they made as fifteen-year olds to meet up in 15 years time. Beautifully filmed but so very s-l-o-w. I’m sure that I aged 15 years watching it.

2. La Filla de Algú. Eli is a lawyer working in the family law firm. On the morning when she and her father are about to act in an important case, her father disappears. Despite being 7 months pregnant, she goes off looking for him. She is secretive and evasive – I wouldn’t want her as my lawyer. The ending was very abrupt and indeterminate.

3. Jaulas .(i.e. ‘Cages’) I really enjoyed this film. Set in an Andalusian shanty-town, a young girl, her mother and her disabled uncle escape their violent father/husband. The family keeps caged birds, and like the birds, they are all trapped. The ending was a little ambiguous (what is it with all these ambiguous endings?) but I’m going with a positive plot resolution rather than a more chilling one.

I’ve booked for another four films, so that will keep me busy. If you’re interested in joining in, here is the link:

They are all subtitled in English.

Movie: Cancion sin nombre (Song without a name)

This 2019 Peruvian film is set in the late 1980s, although the events it depicts occurred in 1981, when a Colombian/Peruvian child kidnapping scheme was uncovered, whereby children were bought or taken from impoverished women and sold to childless couples in the United States or Europe.  Appallingly, a similar trafficking ring was discovered in 2018,with links going right up to the top of the police ranks.

The film, shot in black and white, follows a 20 year old indigenous woman, Georgina, who sells potatoes in the market with her husband, and lives in a small shanty in a coastal town. Without the money to pay for antenatal care, she notes the address in the city of a clinic that offers free care. When she has her baby, it is whisked away for medical attention and she never sees it again.  This is the story of her search for her baby, and for justice.

The film has an other-worldly feel, as if it is a fable even though it is told in an urban setting. There is little contextualizing information, especially about the political situation and the rise of terrorism, and there is little conversation. Georgina and her husband are rendered completely impotent through their poverty and lack of documentation, and they have no way of negotiating a corrupt system until Georgina catches the attention of a journalist.

There is a rather unnecessary sub-plot about the journalist as well. The director Melina León was the daughter of the journalist who uncovered the original plot (although in different circumstances), so perhaps she wanted the give the journalist a more complex backstory. It felt rather gratuitous, and Georgina’s story was far more important.

It is a very sad and rather depressing movie, particularly the last scene.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Viewed at: Thornbury Picture House as part of the Filmoteca South American and Spanish film program.

Movie: Yuli

I confess that I was mainly attracted to this film because it is in Spanish, rather than because it’s a ‘dancing’ film.  It’s the true story of Carlos Acosta, the famous Cuban dancer who has danced with the major (Western) dance companies of the world.  Born to a poor family in Havana, it was his father who drove his career when Carlos himself was a reluctant draftee into the world of dance. It’s a Cuban Billy Elliot in reverse. It is filmed in Havana, which surprised me a bit – perhaps the fact that it is not an American movie opened doors. Carlos Acosta plays himself as an adult, and the narrative is intercut with dance scenes that tell the story – beautifully.

But it is, after all, a dance movie so you more or less know the story before you even see it.  I see that Cinema Nova isn’t showing it any more, either. As it turns out, I saw it at its very last showing.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Movie: Locas Mujeres

Gabriela Mistral was the first and only Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Born in 1889, she was a poet, educator and ambassador.  I had actually heard of her: when I was in Santiago there was an exhibition about her in the library across the road, and then when I went to their cultural centre, I found that it was named after her.

But I think that Latin American audiences must know MUCH more about her, because this documentary about her relationship with her younger lover Doris Dana (who, when she was younger, was a dead ringer for Katherine Hepburn) was very light on details. Mainly it was about Doris Dana’s American niece, who ended up being the custodian of all Gabriela Mistral’s papers that had previously gone to Doris Dana. Doris intended sorting them out and publishing them but died before she did so…and there’s so much of the stuff that Doris Dana’s young niece may do the same thing.  So many boxes; so much paper!! As a documentary, film shots of opening boxes and shuffling through papers only gets you so far. Also there were crackly old tape recordings of Gabriela and Doris talking, once Gabriela was getting old and crotchetty.

Still, Steve and I had a good chat about celebrity, and muses, and translated poetry, even if the documentary itself was rather lacklustre and frankly, boring.  It was screened by Filmoteca, who present a Spanish and Latin American film every month through ACMI. It was in Spanish with English subtitles (unlike the trailer I have posted above).

Movie: Litigante

Well that’s weird- a Spanish trailer with French subtitles that tells you absolutely nothing about the film. Despite the title – in English, the Litigant- this is not a courtroom drama. The main character, Silvia, is a lawyer, but that’s only one part of her life as a single (by choice) mother. Her own mother, Leticia, used to be a lawyer too and even though she is dying – too slowly- of lung cancer, the two women argue incessantly.  Silvia is compromised by the shady dealings of the government bureaucracy for whom she works as a lawyer, and she is embarking on an unexpected love affair.  She is stressed, stretched and so tired. It’s a real slice of life, and thoroughly convincing.  I saw it as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival in Spanish, with English subtitles.

My rating: 4 stars


Movie: Diego Maradona

I come from Melbourne. I don’t like soccer, and the only real football is AFL. I didn’t know anything about Diego Maradona beyond the name. But this film is really good, and you don’t need to know any more than I did to enjoy it. It is subtitled, and consists of a compilation of film clips, some very grainy, of Maradona and has voice-overs from interviews, but no ‘talking heads’ as such.  It’s a rags-to-riches story, and a morality tale of pride before a fall. Go see it.

My rating: 5 out of 5


Movie: The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

Chela and Chiquita are a lesbian couple who have lived for decades in Chela’s crumbling family home. When Chiquita is sent to jail for fraud, Chela continues living in the home, selling off furniture and paintings, and gradually carving out her own life without the enveloping presence of Chiquita, who is far more gregarious and assertive. Set in Paraguay and spoken in Spanish with English subtitles, it’s a good exploration of power within a relationship, and the slow flowering of independence and identity in middle age.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


Spanish Film Festival: La Misma Sangre (Common Blood)

The adult children of a middle-aged couple are shocked when their mother dies mysteriously in the kitchen of their suburban home. The son-in-law suspects that the father has killed her, and the daughters are faced with the dilemma of supporting their surviving parent as the accusations mount up.  It’s described as a thriller, but I saw it more as a family drama, although the end was pretty graphic.

The movie is subtitled in English (even though the trailer is not), but the Spanish wasn’t too fast.

Spanish Film Festival: El Reino (The Realm)

Manual Lopez-Vidal is a politician who has been on the take for years, and it has funded his affluent, elite lifestyle. Now that he is about to be exposed, he is determined to bring everyone else down with him.  At first a political movie, it takes on the aspect of a thriller as incriminating flashdrives are sought, found and handed on, and the closing scenes on a television set reminded me a bit of ‘The Hour’ as the tension rises.

Just as well it’s subtitled- I could barely catch a thing.