Friday, October 03, 2008

Cinema....Los Girasoles Ciegos

Sticking with a cultural theme it’s been a long, long time since I wrote anything about cinema. This is only partly because I haven’t seen that much to make me want to write about it this year. Spanish cinema seems to save almost all of its main releases for the autumn festivals and prize ceremonies, so the interesting releases before the summer tend to be few and far between. I almost wrote about Todos Estamos Invitados, a film about those inhabitants of the Basque Country who have to live with escorts because they are under threat from ETA. Other things got in the way of that. Then there was Casual Day, with it’s look at the internal politics of a company; but this kind of thing was done much better in my opinion by Smoking Room.

Well things have improved since summer ended and first up is this year’s Spanish candidate for the foreign language Oscar; Los Girasoles Ciegos (The Blind Sunflowers). The cinema is one area where the Spanish Civil War has not been forgotten, this film is set in the aftermath of the war and focuses on the grim realities of life for those who supported the losing side. Based on a book by Alberto Méndez, although in reality the film seems to be an adaptation of only one of the four stories from the book. Directed by Jose Luis Cuerda, it is also the last script written by Rafael Azcona, who sadly died earlier this year before the film was released. Méndez himself died not long after the publication of the book.

One of the principal characters, Elena, is played by Maribel Verdú, who seems to be busier in the last 2-3 years than at any other time in her career. Elena’s husband, Ricardo (played by Javier Cámara), is a republican forced to live in a hidden chamber at the back of the family's house, whilst his wife and young son Lorenzo have to live with the pretence that he died in the war or that he escaped afterwards; depending on who they are dealing with. The couple’s pregnant daughter attempts to escape to Portugal with her fugitive boyfriend. Cámara plays a character with a miserable life, alive but forced to live as a prisoner in his own home with the curtains carefully drawn every time he emerges from his hiding place. It’s better than being dead but could hardly be described as a full life.

Salvador, the predatory priest who becomes obsessed with Elena is played by Raúl Arévalo. He’s still not yet a full priest and is sent by his seminary to teach at the school which Lorenzo attends. When back at the seminary he confesses how tortured he is by his feelings for her, but no sooner is he back in town than he is chasing Maribel all over the place. He uses the pretext of helping her son as an excuse to be with her, and his persistent attention puts the whole façade constructed by the “widow” Elena under intense pressure. In any case our priest is a man with a past, having been a combatant on the fascist side in the Civil War and having led anything but a pure life of spiritual reflection. Not that such things worried the Church very much in those days, and back at school the morning always begins with the priests raising their arms in the fascist salute as they oblige their charges to sing the Falangist anthem Cara al Sol.

For me this was a more effective, natural and personal drama than last year’s Spanish Oscar candidate, Las Trece Rosas. However, some critics have claimed that it fails to capture the full subtlety and atmosphere of the original story, but then you have to find and read the book to make that judgement.

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