Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cinema....Spain Leaves It Late

It's been a long time since I did a post on cinema, and not because I haven't tried. The one I started on the Bollywood spectacular I saw during my trip to India never saw the light of day. Later I began another post about La Vida de los Otros (The Lives of Others), still my favourite film of the year so far. But that post got pushed out of the way by other things too. A Mexican film called El Violin also made it onto my list of topics, but I don't think I even started that one; although I enjoyed the film and intended to recommend it.

More recently I have seen the Chinese film Naturaleza Muerta (Still Life) which I could certainly relate to given that I spent more time than was probably wise in China during the 1990's. The film is set in one of the ghost towns abandoned as a result of the construction of the dam on the Yangtze River that has left the Three Gorges looking somewhat less gorge-like than they were before. I did this trip during my time in China, and before the dam was finished, and the look of everything in the film brought it all back to me. For me the film is the best I've seem from China for a few years, not that the list of Chinese films I've seen in that time is so big!

Still the Yangtze

Another recent film I’ve seen that didn't really explore the full potential of its story is Soñar No Cuesta Nada, from Colombia. The (true) story concerns an army battalion sent to fight guerrillas in the jungle and which stumbles upon a huge hoard of cash, most probably the proceeds of drug trafficking. The troops decide to keep the money, but are completely unable to conceal their new found wealth. You can maybe see it as a parable on the corrupting effect of drug money on a society where most people earn little more than they need to survive.

Last night I went to see Un Corazón Invencible (A Mighty Heart), the film about the awful death of Daniel Pearl, the journalist from the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan. One of the reasons I went to see it is because it is directed by Michael Winterbottom, who I felt would manage to avoid the temptation to give the story a Hollywood treatment. Winterbottom tells it straight, there is no propaganda message accompanying the film. It is based on the story as told by Pearl’s wife and the events are seen from her perspective. Because of this the film has little to say about the deeper issues on Islamist influence in Pakistan or the history of that country’s interference in Afghan conflicts. It does serve as further confirmation that those who pay the price of terror are rarely those who have any responsibility for the situation the terrorists use to justify their actions.

For Spanish cinema it's been a tremendously disappointing year, I cannot name a single Spanish film that I have seen in the last 9 months that I would unreservedly recommend. I had high hopes for Bajo las Estrellas, but it didn't turn out to be as engaging as I expected from what I had read. This sad situation is supposed to change in the autumn, with 2 or 3 new Spanish films that will create a certain amount of expectation. One of these is Mataharis, the new film from Iciar Bollain, whose last release was the excellent Te Doy Mis Ojos. Another film that I await with some expectation is a Civil War story, Las 13 Rosas, which is one of the candidates for Spains nominations in the Oscars. Let’s hope the autumn brings better news for Spain in the cinemas.


leftbanker said...

I think that movies, for the most part, are pretty dreadful. If you want to see some of the best stuff on film these days I would suggest a couple of American television series. Entourage is just about the most fun half hour you’ll find these days. It’s a product of Home Box Office, a pay television channel that also produced The Sopranos. Another series they do is The Wire which has had four seasons thus far and deals with a Baltimore police investigative unit. What I like most about these programs is that they don’t use movie stars. I hate movie stars.

Movies must adhere to a time constraint of 90 minutes to three hours which limits their ability to do the sort of character development that makes these TV shows so good. Even a minor character on The Wire has more screen time than the main protagonists in movies. I can’t remember the last movie (in any language) that I would recommend.

Graeme said...

You're not by any chance related to the "leftbanker" who recommended a list of Spanish films on his blog last week?

Only joking, I take your point on series having more time to develop characters but that doesn't seem to me to mean that cinema is not worth bothering about. There are directors who can tell you more in 20 minutes than others can in a 30 part series.

ben said...

We recently saw Caotica Ana which was, err, chaotic. Almost recommendable, certainly with a couple of memorable payoffs at the end (stay for the credits), but in retrospect just a bit too random. Still, if you like random, nudity-filled Medem films... OK, so I quite enjoyed it.

Graeme said...

I find Medem's films hard to take. Los Amantes del Circulo Polar just became so strangely silly by the end that I couldn't stop laughing. I couldn't believe how seriously it got taken. The only film of his I have seen that I quite liked was his documentary on the Basque Country - for which he was very unjustly criticised by the sort of people who say "I'm not going to go and see this film because I know that it is wrong".