Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hispanic Cinema spans the globe

Spanish movies have an advantage.  The language is spoken by over 350 million people making it the third largest language behind only Mandarin and Hindi.  There are well developed television networks with shows distributed globally.  When Russia gained television freedom they used Colombian serials to help fill in the empty gaps.  Actors, directors travel not only to other Spanish speaking countries, but also other nations making this a big topic for movie lovers.

One of my first Spanish language movies was "Like Water For Chocolate" which had been recommended by my sister Rebecca who has a pretty good track record, but at first I did not pay attention and missed most subtitles.  A little unexpected sex did catch my attention, but I didn't notice plot or keep track of all the characters  After a discussion I was convinced I should watch it more carefully and caught a wonderful story with heavy emphasis on food.  The male lead was Italian who has done a number of Italian, Spanish and English speaking roles.  From Mexico.

Another of my early Spanish movies was one directly from Spain I spotted at a video shop and took home to enjoy.  "Open Your Eyes."  It was different and I did pay attention.  First saw Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega.  I would also say one of the most impressive directors (who also writes scripts and even music) Alejandro Amenabar was a critical participant.

Another early Spanish movie  was  "Aura"  shown in a film series put on by Art Gallery of Hamilton.  Ricardo Darin, now a favourite actor from Argentina.  It was awhile before I saw another, but afterwards sought his movies out.

These movies were all interesting and encouraged me to explore further, but it is a very big field--the big players are Spain, Mexico and Argentina, but there are many others.

Alejandro Amenabar did two other movies that I loved.  "The Sea Inside"  with Javier Bardemn (see http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/10/paralyzed-men-in-4-foreign-movies.html  and "Agora" (he wanted to do something with an astronomical theme and ended up with ancient Egypt.)  Rachel Weisz played Hypatia of Alexandria who had no time for men, but only science.  Demonstrated some early breakthroughs in understanding the universe.  In addition to "Open Your Eyes" Alejandro wrote the Hollywood version that starred Tom Cruise and with Penelope Cruz repeating her role.

Spanish director  Pedro Almodovar has an agenda that is aggressive when it comes to sex and religion.  He writes and directs most of his films.  Some good examples include "Volver" with  Penelope Cruz;  "Talk to Her" which won an Oscar for best original screen play; "The Skin I Live In" with Antonio Banderas and "Bad Education" (not seen) with Gael Garcia Bernal.

"Cell 211" with Luis Tosar is a prison drama, brutal and well done. A new prison guard starts work the same day as a riot breaks out and goes undercover.

"Pan's Labryinthe" was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.  A very unique juxtaposition of the Spanish Civil War with an incredible fantasy.  Guillermo, born in Mexico has made a reputation in English speaking cinema with the likes of two Hobbitt movies (not seen).   He has been the winner of many festival awards.

"Dark blue Almost black"  offers an interesting love triangle with a twist.  An infertile prisoner wants his brother to impregnate a female prisoner to bond her to him.  An obvious danger that might be a source of a comedy.  The outside brother has an old girl friend who wants to renew their relationship so it evolves into a four person scenario. Good drama.

The infamous "Y tu Mama También" was directed and co-written by Carlos Cuaron and his brother Alfonso Cuaron.  Carlos also directed and wrote "Rudo y Cursi" and seems to have stuck around Mexico, while his brother Alfonso has gone onto to big things in the English medium including "Gravity," "Children of Men" a Harry Potter movie (not seen) and "The Shock Doctrine" ( not seen, but read the book by Naomi Klein).

Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu is now highly regarded for "21 Grams," "Babel" which won award at Cannes,  "Biutiful" and "Birdman" not yet seen and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkagan" (not seen).  An early movie for him was "Amores Perres" with Gael Garcia Bernal.

Gael Garcia Bernal has a world wide presence.  For many their introduction was with  "Y tu Mama También," with a level of explicitness not normal, but underneath the adolescent sex fantasies portrayed are satirical social and political comments.  Gael paired up again with his good friend Diego Luna in " Rudo y Cursi"  Diego went on to have a major role in "Milk."  Gael was able to have many international roles such as "Even the Rains" (with Luis Tosar)  "Rosewater" (Jon Stewart directing about Canadian journalist), " Motorcycle Diaries"  One that interested me and highly recommend was "No" in  Chile during the referendum on Pinochet.  All the opposition parties wanted to divide up a limited amount of time they were given, but instead the role of Gael with an advertising background went for a more pointed effort that succeeded.

"Silent Light" crossed my radar as Canadian novelist Miriam Towes has a role in it and her book, "All my Puny Sorrows" was recently selected for Hamilton Reads.  It was directed and written by Carlos Reygadas of Mexico and is set in Chihuahua, northern Mexico.  There is only a little contact with the Spanish speaking world as the Mennonites speak an obscure dialect, Plautdiesch amongst themselves.  It is a simple story, told at a slow pace and is not for impatient people.  It  reminds me of a young Mennonite boy from Mexico who used to help me delivering papers--Jake was the hardest worker I have ever met.  At the time it seemed strange that Mennonites migrated from Mexico to Canada, but this movie opened my understanding a little bit  (actually suggesting more questions).  Won a jury prize at Cannes and several other festival awards.

Argentina is the major South American Spanish producer.   My interest was sparked by Ricardo Darin and I was able to pick up a few of his films and expand my knowledge.  Juan Jose Campanella directed two of the more famous ones "Son of the Bride" and, Oscar winning  "Secret in their eyes"  Campanella also won Daytime Emmy award and spent most of his career in America.  "Nine Queens" was another well known one, for which I had seen a Bollywood copycat version.  Beautifully done, with the viewers being left in the lurch as much as the victim.   "XXY" had an unusual theme as a child had been born a hermaphrodite and was undecided which sex to choose and it gets complicated by a doctor with an agenda and a young boy discovering he is gay.  Directed and written by Lucia Puenzo who also did "The German Doctor", about a Nazi hiding in Argentina doing experiments as well as doctoring.

"The Education of Fairies", filmed in Spain" had an interesting line, ' I fell in love with two people at the same time."  "Carnacho" was literally about ambulance chasers.   Ricardo has made a lot of films that sound interesting, but are not accessible for me. One I haven't seen, is "The Stranger," an English speaking film.   http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/04/ricardo-darin-brings-charm-from-html

Norma Aleandro's most famous movie was probably "The Official Story" which was political and very emotional.  I had seen her in an English language movie set in Uruguay,   Another famous film was "Son of the Bride.'  with Ricardo Darin.  She now seems to play grandmothers and mothers of grown children.  "Andres doesn't take Naps" also had a political undertone.  "Anita," a delightful movie about a woman with Downs syndrome whose mother is missing after a bomb explosion at a Jewish financial building.  She wanders around, at first interrupting a variety of personal situations, but also spreading love.  Norma Aleandro played the mother, but unfortunately was finished off early in the movie.  She is still active as she approaches 80.  The director/writer, Marcos Carnevale also wrote "Elsa and Fred" that I had recently seen a Hollywood version with Christopher Plummer and Shirley McLain.

"A Boyfriend for My Wife" in 2008 was the most popular film in Argentina that year.  Man feels henpecked by his wife and decides to find her a lover to take her off his hands.  His plan works, but he discovers that his wife has become a much more likeable person and he wants her back.

"Lilli's Apron" from 2004 was promoted as similar to "Mrs Doubtfire," but had a very serious undercoating.  Funny in many scenes with a man dressing as a woman to get a maid's job, but in this version he was covering for his wife who was suffering depression.

Peru got a movie to my local library,  "Undertow," which I avoided as I have seen enough gay movies, but this did have a different angle.  A happily married man with a wife about to give birth had a male lover, but the man died, and came back as a ghost.  The movie was about being yourself.  Excellent and memorable cinematography and music, some of which I bought on iTunes.

Last year I wrote a bit about Paraguay having an enjoyable movie called "7 Boxes."  Fairly simple and low budget, but well done.

From Colombia I saw"La Sirga"  which was a bleak film. The director was making political point, without talking politics or showing violence.  Colombia has a reputation of violence and corruption and rebellion and eventually you sense that is the pressurizing background.

With the millions of Hispanics in United States there is an American market for producing Hispanic films.   Tv. networks are well established and reflect the American Hispanic culture. "Ladron que Roba a Labron" (to rob a thief")  was con job movie.  They took the theme of tv commercials being (in some cases ) criminally misleading, particularly taking advantage of immigrants from Hispanic nations.  Many of the actors were chosen from American Hispanic television, but others with backgrounds in Argentina, Mexico and Cuba.

"Alambrista" is about an  immigrant form Mexico to California.  Robert M Young, an independent  producer released this film in 1977.  Most of the actors were inexperienced.   Some of the themes included 2nd marriages on the other side of the border and the concept of anchor baby at end.  Edward James Omos, better known for English speaking roles had a small role and does a special feature 33 years later.  He said the movie was meant to make you feel it is real, almost a documentary.  What would you do in their shoes?  Won a Cannes award and Robert M. Young went on to do many films and documentaries.

Spanish and English seem to work in parallel universes but there is overlapping.  The movies mentioned are all ones I have watched, (with a few noted exceptions. although a few of them were seen many years ago.

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