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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What is Catalan cinema ?

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 June (updated 20 August)

What is Catalan cinema ?

[Now, in 2017, with its own sequel : What more is Catalan cinema ?]

Update : click here to go to outlines of three Catalan films
at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 and links to reviews

In advance of the 34th Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF via @camfilmfest), and also of a screening at London’s ICA (@ICA) on 27 June of El bosc (The Forest) (2012) (a film that had its UK premiere when shown at last year’s Festival¹ as did three other Catalan films), here is a little look at where films like this come from geographically, temperamentally, and emotionally…

Some may know that Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain, is the capital city of Catalonia though it’s really, in Catalan, Catalunya but forget Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) for giving you any more than an architectural montage to emulate that of Manhattan (1979) (or be a precursor to Woody Allen’s love-smitten depiction of Paris at Midnight from 2011…)²

But it probably may help little more to think of the inevitable Gaudí, let alone Juan Gris’ connections or with the Catalan form of Gris’ adopted name and a birth-right to Barcelona Joan Miró. Maurice Ravel (French, but with a Basque-Spanish heritage of a birthplace in territory somewhat distant from Catalunya, but likewise where France adjoins Spain), may give us some feel of Spanishness at times, but perhaps the quirky figure who provides a way in to this cinematic tradition is Salvador Dalí.

This blog-posting began with five ‘S’ key-words, and Dalí truly, as the phrase has it, ticks the boxes for all of them and, with the infamous collaboration with Luis Buñuel in Un Chien Andalou (1928) (not forgetting L'âge d'or (1930)), is rooted in cinema. Dalí may have moved away from what Buñuel became a celebrated master of, but his showmanship and theatricality resembles aspects of film familiar, say, from the great Italian directors, and it is hard to believe that he has not been an inspiration in his home region.

Overview of Cambridge Film Festival's 'Catalan strand' in 2012 and 2013

Looking personally to the 2014 Festival (#CamFF), there is full confidence in Ramon Lamarca that he will have found and curated some powerful and challenging films, no doubt examining the nature of reality, or of the little-appreciated conflict that is The Spanish Civil War (Guerra Civil Española). As well as ending the life of poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, and providing the substance of Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, it not only tore Spain apart (with the help of General Franco’s allies in Germany and Italy), but has laid down a seam that underlies the history of Spain in our postmodern era, and which film-makers in Catalunya have been especially open to explore :

Directors such as Ken Loach, working with screenwriter Jim Allen in Land and Freedom (1995), have brought a British perspective on seeking to fight pro-fascist Nationalist forces, but Jesús Garay’s Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008) delves less into the politics and the pointlessness of brother against brother, but rather, and very movingly, into the ‘visceralness’ of what it means to tick down to something that changes individual lives for ever : although Garay is from Santander, not Catalunya, again this is in the very North of Spain.

Set in the civil war like his film, but from the point of view of a landowner with pro-fascist leanings (or, probably more accurately, inherited anti-communist feelings ?), The Forest (El bosc) (2012), through its embodiment of place and with its vivid special effects, evokes another world, another dimension, from the perspective of which professed love and care can be examined, and in and through which a transformational and redemptive influence can operate. Similarly, in a way in the post-war period, and with packed Festival screenings, Black Bread (Pa negre) (2010) hits us right at its close with a boy’s realization of what his true position in life has been.

On another level, and in Venice, we again have finding the truth in The Redemption of The Fish (La redempció dels peixos) (2013), as Marc (Miquel Quer) tracks down his past, and is seduced and misled by the shapes, shadows and reflections of La Serenissima : so many of these films revolve historical and familial disputes and allegiances in a rich and productive way. In V.O.S. (2009), we have that theme translated into the playful and malleable notion of relation and relationships, in and out of making a film that crosses the barrier between ‘life’ and ‘film’ in a way as inventive and thought-provoking as Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). And, but one might need to read further with the links below to reviews on this blog, The Night Elvis Died (La Nit Que Va Morir L’Elvis) (2010) teases apart the layers of reality (not least with its quiet homage to Paris, Texas (1984))…

Here (out of the eleven films shown in 2012 and 2013 - UK denotes UK premiere) are links to this blog’s reviews of most of the films (with @THEAGENTAPSLEY's tag-lines, and additional key-words) :

2012 Black Bread (Pa Negre) (2010)

A naturalistic, but haunted, story of a child’s perspective on betrayal, sex and anger

Civil war Childhood Respect Reprisal Poverty Loyalty

2013 (UK) Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008)

Movingly mixing documentary, acting, and faux-documentary to dig into past pain

Bombs Barcelona Dante Time Heights History

2012 The Body in the Woods (Un Cos Al Bosc) (1996)

An unfolding with turns, twists and unprincipled practices

Sexual orientation Investigation Murder Disguise Corruption Desire

2013 (UK) The Forest (El bosc) (2012)

An account of a civil war through how the hated better-off classes fared

Magical realism Twisted love Collectivization Other worlds Symbolism Unreal feast

2012 The Night Elvis Died (La Nit Que Va Morir L’Elvis) (2010)

Finding the truth, when it is well hidden, by intuition and insight

Mental-health stigma Friendship Corruption Blood Unreality Amnesia

2013 (UK) The Redemption of the Fish (La redempció dels peixos) (2013)

Connectedness and disconnection, reality and illusion, in Venice

Contact Closeness Deceit Truth Reflection Ripple

2012 V.O.S. (2009)

A film within a film or is one as real as the other ?

Acting Film-making Real time Couples Attraction Meta-textuality

2012 Warsaw Bridge (1990)

The whirl / ennui of yet another publishing event, and what it leads to

Connections Publishing Society Glamour Politics Water


¹ It had two screenings, at the second of which the film’s director, Óscar Aibar, was in attendance and answered questions.

² For one thing, Penélope Cruz (easily the best part of the film, and whose deserving an Academy Award (for María Elena) was undeniable) and her now husband Javier Bardem (by no means the worst), although Spanish, are not from what (since 1978) has been an Autonomous Community or ’nationality’ within Spain.

For another, according to the trivia of Wikipedia’s web-page for VCB, Allen had funding for a film to be shot in Spain, and so adapted a script that he had written years before, which was set in San Francisco : judge for oneself what Catalan (or even properly Spanish) feel one has from the film and, more importantly, whether the character of Juan Antonio (Bardem) resembles a convenient stereotype of Mediterranean mores (to drive the plot in a rather Jamesian, ingénues-abroad way)…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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