Follow by e-mail

Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts

Friday, 21 October 2016

Midsummer Night's Revelry and Revelations

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 September

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (Barcelona, nit d'estiu) (2013) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

What happens whilst waiting for the main event can be more important…

In our recent history, hearing the news of the shooting of John Lennon, or an occasion such as New Year’s Eve 1999 (but also built up by The Millennium Bug – and what its dread consequences were supposed to be), are alike often cited as moments when we can be confident of remembering where we were, and what we were doing, at the time :

However, Director Dani de la Orden’s film does not concern itself with learning the hard central facts of something that has happened (with subsidiary reports that follow, as the story ‘breaks’) - or the immediacy of wondering which city’s fireworks were going to be the best (Sydney Harbour Bridge ?), but about the curious nature of the time in between, where uncertainty precedes expectation… A comet called Rose (Roser in Catalan) is coming, but what will it / she do, what does it mean right now ?

A prodigy of fear and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times
Henry IV, Part I (Act V, Scene 1)

Forty-eight years after Shakespeare’s death, there was another such bright comet, which not only provoked fears for what it might herald, but actually also turned out to precede both The Great Plague¹ (1665) and – as if it could then get no worse – The Great Fire of London (1666). Fear and portents indeed !

Albeit Shakespeare is present only in a low-key way in this film (for those who choose to find him), it is relevant to quote him because, be it in the accidental or deliberate confusions of A Midsummer Night's Dream (or those of As You Like It), he deals with themes and emotions that continue to occupy twenty-first-century hearts and minds² - ones which, for this reason, have long permeated Continental culture and literature. (Chaucer adapted Giovanni Boccaccio in The Canterbury Tales (in 'The Knight's Tale', for example.)

So, then as now, friends lead each other on, or astray, or even lead themselves off course. Although Barcelona Summer Night is an ensemble film, some characters may not have anything else in common, since it comprises six temporally matched strands, which do not intersect each other (even if, in passing, we may notice some little 'crossings-over'). In this respect, it necessarily shares something with Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013), which was set amongst the diners on the closing night of a restaurant on the Catalan coast, and [had its UK premiere] at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF / @camfilmfest) in 2014 : on these pages, its Festival preview had, as its sub-title, A night of enchantment, misunderstanding, and phone-calls.

Here, there are perhaps fewer phone-calls, and whereas the sensibility of Catalunya may seem drawn to what enchants us (and also to what leads to misunderstanding), some of the energy in this film better resembles V.O.S. (2009), another Catalan film, which is surveyed in What is Catalan cinema ?, which looks more closely at films from Camera Catalonia in previous years at the Festival : Barcelona, nit d'estiu is not as playful (or knowing) with the cinematic medium, but the visual and relational vibrancy is of a different kind from that of Menú degustació.

Of course, the film is carefully constructed to have these qualities, but there are feelings of immediacy and naturalness in how it is shot, with cinematographer Ricard Canyellas ably showing that interesting the eye is not inconsistent with, or an interruption in, telling a story, and that cinema should neglect to do so : one could justly ask whether mere story-telling on celluloid deserves to be called or in the cinema...)

The film is also proud of Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia – Catalunya, in Catalan), but does not wish to be more than rooted in the city, rather than making it the much-coined character in its own right, with a clear 'personality', Which, although the screenplay was not originally set there, is what Woody Allen may have successfully done in Vicky Cristina Barcelona³ (2008) [Just as he had (with co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman) in Manhattan (1979) (and was to do again in Midnight in Paris (2011)).]

~ ~ ~

Not to say too much, but facets that Canyellas and de la Orden – and writers Dani González, Eric Navarro, and Eduard Sola – glint off include the following (in no particular order, maybe some imagined ?) :

* FC Barcelona (Barça)

* Montserrat, a legendary twenty-four-hour ice-cream parlour

* The view-point of Bunkers del Carmel (Turó de la Rovira)

* A semi-confessional drinking-game, in English called ‘I have never…’ (it really exists – will it catch on here ?)

* The LGBTQ and club scenes

* Plus, of course, Inca prophecies about Roser (‘Rose’), the comet that everyone is waiting for…

And what portent does Antoni Gaudí’s most famous building in the city have for the night's events ? At the time, surrounded as his cathedral is by cranes, the non-Catalan half of a couple is perhaps less than impressed :

It looks like Mordor, with the eye

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ ~ John Lennon⁴

* * * * *

End-notes :

¹ Indeed, some continue to hypothesize - and seem back in vogue, for doing so ? - that it was the meteorite that gave rise to the plague (through microbes from outer space, brought in via the meteorite). Naturally, many of the seventeenth-century associations were more grounded in fear and judgement, and of a less scientifically causal or nature...

² This film is far less complicated than As You Like It, which centres on a woman (Rosalind), pretending to be a man (Ganymede), and teaching a man (Orlando) to woo her (as if she were Rosalind) - and all that, in the process, happens all around her... By contrast, the film's love-coaching is fairly uncomplicated ! (But might Rosalind's story crop up in another way ?)

³ The film may have relatively little to commend it, beyond the montage of city-sights, and the contribution of Penélope Cruz (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in The Academy Awards 2009 (@TheAcademy)) ?

⁴ Though the words are first attributed to Allen Saunders, in Reader’s Digest in January 1957, according to the Quote Investigator web-site.

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

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)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

From the archive : Miró at Tate Modern

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

17 March

I do not know whether those who purchase a ticket on the day are allowed re-entry (and I have heard people in the past talking about ‘doing a show’ in 90 minutes because they have an art-history background), but I tend to find these Tate Modern exhibitions quite demanding, because they are so extensive and there is often almost too much to look at.

(I have seen some comments about the ticket-price: maybe the exhibitions will seem expensive if, apart from the availability of toilets (and they are not very obvious), one understands that the only time to look around is the two or three hours before needing lunch or dinner.)

If not, this is where Tate membership is a real benefit, because I am free to go off to have a coffee or something to eat, if I am getting fatigued and realize that I am no longer taking in what I am trying to look at. I can then go back into the exhibition once or twice more, or even leave the rest of it until another day.

However, in this case, apart from the Barcelona series – which I left to the end and only had time to spend a few seconds in front of each print – there was no one group of exhibits that represented a very significant amount of time needed to look at it properly. (I would say that the display-cases in the Gauguin show represent the other extreme.) Room 1 had been seen on another day, but I managed to look around yesterday in the five hours until 10.00 p.m. that I had available.

That, too, is a benefit of Friday and Saturday evenings, with the gallery thinning out towards closing time. Others have commented on the two rooms with two triptychs each (Rooms 10 and 12, although the fireworks triptych was displayed differently, and well), but it was only later that one could get a clear view of all three canvases, and I deliberately waited until past 9.30 p.m. to view them.

They were stunning, both pairs, and I will hope to see them again when the gallery is quiet, but I wondered whether they really needed a little more space to themselves, and the fact that they were back to back meant that a viewer standing away to take in one triptych as a whole, as I did, would inevitably (if there had been anyone there then) have been in the way of anyone wanting to see the other.

With an artist as prolific as Miró (and I had not been aware that he was working at his death until I saw the video, which was not in its normal place at the exit), the exhibition was inevitably selective, but it was a very good selection, not least for the Constellations series, and, again, the triptychs.

That said, including the burnt pictures but not having footage from the video that I saw displayed on a screen in Room 11, which could have showed the artist burning a canvas (and even stepping on it and leaving red footprints) was, I believe, a mistake: with the video where it is, not everyone would see it, and I consider it as of much more interpretative value to have something relevant to the creation of a series of works in the place where they are being shown.

Above all, I now appreciate that Miró related to series (and, although he is quoted as saying that two and two do not make four, he had some sort of personal mathematics that related one item in a series to the next), and also to sequence, so it was also unfortunate that the captioning in Room 7 did not more clearly draw attention to his request for the Constellations to be displayed in order. They were displayed in order, but the casual viewer would not obviously have known where to start, or (except from the date on the caption to each painting) that they were in any definite order.

Which takes me to my final few observations about the exhibition and how it was curated:

1. Unless I am much mistaken and misunderstood the footage, the curators of the exhibition themselves (shown, on the video, visiting Miró’s studios, both of which he had used since 1959) confused the studios, and seemed to be saying that works created in one were the product of the other.

In any event, it would again have been helpful to understand the artist’s working life to have had the history and views of the studios, and his way of working, set out in the exhibition (not just references to them in the captions).

2. Inevitably, the captions to the paintings (as well as those for each room) tease out meanings, and make suggestions as to how work and life relate: the ones in this exhibition were generally suitably tentative, but, after a while, the proposition introduced by ‘maybe’ kept eliciting my quiet retort Who says so ? (What evidence is there for what the ladder imagery means, I want to ask.)

On this level, not least when the video footage of Miró gave a very different impression of the genesis of the burnt canvases, and set his producing them in a different context, I sometimes felt misled by what was being suggested as to his motivation or meaning (Room 11, for example).

3. Finally, the fact that the chronology of his life was (as it usually is) outside the exhibition, but was essential reading to flesh out one’s understanding of Spain and its history did not help. (I do not even recall a map of Spain for that matter, showing where Mont-roig and other significant places are, and not everyone has yet visited Barcelona.)

This was a particular problem where such help was most needed: I was being asked to understand the paintings from 1931 onwards against the background of what was happening, but I could not tell from what was presented to me when Franco actually gained power, or when the Spanish Civil War began and (how it) ended.

Details of that war as a whole, including German involvement and the anti-fascist movement, seemed to have been assumed to be common knowledge, which I doubt is true: information and images would have informed viewing the paintings greatly. The Phoney War was also referred to, but we were not even told (it was the anniversary on my visit) that Britain (and France) declared war on 3 September, or when Germany invaded France and The Low Countries.

Unfortunately, I end up thinking that I will have to look out texts on the civil war myself to understand better the times in which Miró was painting.

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

Monday, 7 October 2013

Eyes full of tears

This is a Festival review of Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 October

This is a Festival review of Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008)

Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008) is not an overtly flashy film, but deservedly it does make big claims on our attention, and on our hearts. As can be seen, it is being shown not because it was made in the last year, but it is a UK premiere, part of the Catalan strand, again curated by Ramon Lamarca after a successful first appearance at the Festival last year, which made many friends.

I have written elsewhere about another Catalan film at the Festival (also a UK premiere), The Redemption of the Fish, which I watched twice, and I would if possible gladly have done the same with this film, but it is quality that the films have in common, not their subject-matter.

This one concerns the Spanish Civil War and the power of memory what is best forgotten about when Italian air forces bombed Barcelona, and what should never be forgotten. One review that I have read (maybe this one) challenges how the film is put together, and its story and pace, but, for me, these are what most attracted me to it, for it uses acted scenes, documentary, and faux-documentary, e.g. to introduce the men who were in the anti-aircraft batteries that ringed the city on a number of eminences.

We see men and women, down in the shelters and tunnels that also served to wait out air-raids, interviewed by the same woman who challenges a visiting professor, apparently a Dante scholar and visiting for a conference, and pesters to get to speak to him what some mistake for the monotonous course of this film is actually provoking us to ask ourselves (if we have not just read up all about it beforehand*) what is real, what is not, and what remembered, what feigned forgetfulness.

In this, we are as much in a confused state as the main characters (Maria (Gabriela Flores) and Mario (Paolo Ferrari), played with great conviction), who think that they know what is right, and not preconception, until life throws them up in each other’s way. After all that we have seen and heard, the closing scenes, and the beautiful reading that the professor gives from the opening of the Inferno, are painfully touching, speaking for all who have been lost.

For the second time this Festival, I was moved to tears just by that simplicity.


* My approach to a film is that it should, for good or ill, stand for itself : if I need to have read the book or play on which it is based, it has failed in its own terms, and, if it cannot speak for itself, it is just images.

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