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Great Spanish films for a rainy weekend
Great Spanish films for a rainy weekend
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Mar 22, 2020
IT'S GOING TO be a long month now that the Covid-19 prevention confinement has been extended to Saturday, April 11 – but perhaps now is the right time for it, if ever there was one. Outside, it's raining across most of the country, especially on the coasts, so you probably wouldn't have been inclined to go outside anyway.
And what better way to lighten up a wet, miserable day – quarantine or no quarantine – than curling up on the sofa with a great film?
This could be your chance to watch all the Spanish films you've heard are so good, so you don't feel out of the loop. Even though mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, and massive international productions, including UK favourites, are shown in cinemas in Spain as they break, the line-up for your local flicks will nearly always include at least one latest home-grown release. Unlike in France where the law states that a minimum of 40% of films shown at cinemas must be French or from a French-speaking country, there's no such requirement in Spain – only a conscious effort to give national films a good airing so the Spanish arts industry does not disappear amongst the glittery mist of Tinseltown productions.
And if you follow the Goya Awards, you'll know that the vast majority of trophies goes to Spanish films.
Of course, unless your local cinema holds a one-day-only 'Original Version' or V.O. showing, even Hollywood releases will be in Spanish, and national films themselves are, naturally, shown in the language. If your Spanish isn't quite up to watching a film and getting the best out of it, you're best to order them on DVD so you can set the subtitles into English or, if you're ready to take on a Spanish film in the original but afraid of missing bits, put the subtitles in Spanish and test yourself.
Watching a film in the original language generally needs approximately standard B1 to B2, or roughly from a 'weak' A-level standard to second-year degree level, but with the subtitles on in Spanish, you'll be able to follow it if you're at the lower end of this scale.
And with the subtitles in your own language, it doesn't matter even if your Spanish is nil, but can be a good method of picking up words and phrases.
What to watch
You've got time, so you could start by going through the entire list of this year's Goya Award winners – from the crime thriller Adiós with Mario Casas and Natalia de Molina to the sci-fi El Hoyo by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, to the 'dangers of making assumptions' drama Lo Que Arde, or in English, Fire Will Come, through to the psychological family drama Madre with Marta Nieto, there are plenty to choose from. Check out our story on the 2020 Goyas here.
Or, given that his latest, Dolor y Gloria ('Pain and Glory'), starring Antonio Banderas, cleaned up at the Goyas and got its lead actor his first-ever (and long overdue) Oscar nomination, you could settle down to a back-to-back Pedro Almódovar film festival on the sofa.
His earlier movies are a product of their time – the first decade or so after the national censorship on the arts was lifted by default upon the death of dictator General Franco, when everyone from musicians to authors to screen directors literally went wild, producing everything they had not been allowed to up to then.
This crazy cultural Renaissance, in Spain's capital, was known as the Movida Madrileña, and so watching some of Almodóvar's best initial productions is something of a history lesson: Drag queens, transsexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, uncut sex scenes, murder, illegitimate children, and homosexuality are all given as flamboyant an airing as possible and in the most kitsch and melodramatic way imaginable. Particularly recommended are Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios ('Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'), ¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto? ('What Have I Done to Deserve This?') and La Ley del Deseo ('The Law of Desire'), all produced in the mid- to late 1980s.
Slightly calmer, more introspective but equally blackly-comic and melodramatic, later films worth a watch are Todo Sobre Mi Madre ('All About My Mother' – second picture), Hable Con Ella ('Talk To Her'), Volver (the same title in English, but translating as 'Coming Back'), Los Abrazos Rotos ('Broken Embraces'), Los Amantes Pasajeros ('I'm So Excited'), and La Piel Que Habito ('The Skin I Live In').
What else to watch
If melodrama and drag-queens aren't your thing, or Almodóvar's later productions are a bit too 'arthouse' or 'near-the-knuckle', here are a few others we recommend to while away your time in quarantine, depending upon your general taste in viewing. Here's our top six.
Los Borgia ('The Borgias')
For those into history, but who prefer it to be told through the lives of people and involving some action and suspense, Los Borgia will give you a dramatic insight into one of Spain's most notorious dynasties. For those who live in the Comunidad Valenciana, a day trip to Gandia (southern Valencia province) should be on your agenda for once we're allowed out again – this coastal town with its great shopping streets is home to the palace where 10 generations of Borgias (they were known as the Borjas in Spain and the Borgias in Italy) lived and died until their reign ended by the last of their Dukes, Francisco de Borja, joining the Jesuits.
Much of the film was shot in Gandia – on its rural Ahuir beach and in the palace – and also in Rome, in the dynasty's chambers in the Vatican.
Starring the world-famous Paz Vega (the mum in Spanglish), and nationally-famous actresses Ángela Molina and María Valverde, it follows Rodrigo de Borja's nomination as Pope Alessandro VI and his empire-building tendencies and ruthless ambition between his sons. The incest we knew went on involving Rodrigo's daughter Lucrecia de Borja is hinted at just enough to earn the film a '13' certificate but not enough to make it an '18'.
After watching, maybe you'll be inspired to visit Gandia and add it to your post-quarantine list of plans.
Los Amantes del Círculo Polar ('Lovers of the Arctic Circle')
Another one that's brilliant for the scenery as well as the story, this Julio Medem classic from the turn of the Millennium stars prolific Spanish actress Najwa Nimri (she played the rôle Cameron Díaz did in the original of Vanilla Sky) as Ana, and Fele Martínez as Otto who, aged eight, first meet when they are running out of school, and follows their lives for the next 17 years – from their parents getting married, to their teenage romance, and their early adult lives breaking them apart but coincidence continuing to bring them back together, or to nearly miss each other. At times they seem to be two parallel lines – so close, but never crossing paths – and the whole film is based upon chance and its part in uniting people or having them pass like ships in the night.
As they nearly-meet and nearly-don't, time and time again, Otto's job as a goods pilot and his childhood obsession with seeing the Arctic Circle lead the almost-lovers to northern Finland; and if your vision of the Polar regions is of snow and icebergs, the footage shot in the city of Rovaniemi and its surrounding countryside will stun you: A vast expanse of green, open meadow and forest, a lake (which Najwa Nimri swims in), a hut, and Thomas the Finn (the subtitles will suddenly stop at the point when he and Ana meet as they communicate in English as a lingua franca) with Nimri sitting on a deckchair at the dead of 'night', when the sun is still high in the vast blue of the sky.
At times frustrating, it's nevertheless suspense-filled, with a somewhat open ending. In fact, it's quite cut and dried, but open to your own interpretation depending upon what you want to see happen.
Ocho Apellidos Vascos ('Eight Basque Surnames')
After its release exactly six years ago, this blockbuster by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro written by Borja Cobeaga and Diego San José became the highest-grossing Spanish film in history, and remains among the top 15. It's a comedy about culture shocks and stereotypes, not between different countries or nationalities, but regions of the same country: Rafa (played by Dani Rovira), who has never left Andalucía in his life, falls for Amaia (Clara Lago) on a night out in Sevilla, but she tells him what he can do with his chat-up lines. They end up spending a night together, though, before she disappears – leaving her mobile phone behind. Rafa decides to trace her to her home in the village of Argoitia in the Basque Country to give it back to her, in the hope of rekindling their fleeting relationship. Once there, he tries to pretend to be Basque to fit in – renaming himself 'Antxón' and pretending to be a Basque independence supporter and a regular jai alai, or regional handball, player. A middle-aged woman from Extremadura named Merche, who calls herself Anne, pretends to be his mother after Rafa met her on the bus up to Argoitia.
Of course, it ends happily, and Amaia's fisherman father Koldo's only caveat to their union is that if they have a son, they must not bring him up to be a Sevilla or Betis FC fan.
Sin Noticias de Dios ('No Word from God')
Nominated for 11 Goya Awards when it was released in 2001 and starring two regular 'Almodóvar Girls', this star-studded comedy features an earth-based clash between heaven and hell.
In the last few years, hardly any souls have managed to pass their exams to be able to get into heaven, whilst in hell, the massive influx of newcomers means they are struggling for space. Just as heaven's management is resigning itself to throwing in the towel, they get a plea from a mother on earth to save the soul of her son Many Chávez, a boxer with a turbulent past.
They send their most competent angel, Lola Nevado (played by Victoria Abril) to earth to pretend to be Chávez's wife and try to get him back on the straight and narrow. But hell's Intelligence service finds out and sends its crack secret agent, Carmen Ramos (Penélope Cruz). Between Carmen and Lola, they find out that their missions are more complex in reality than in theory, and end up having to join forces – but find out they have more in common than they thought. Also features Chris Hemsworth's model-and-actress wife Elsa Pataky, and Mexican star Gael García Bernal.
Abre los Ojos ('Open Your Eyes')
Whilst Tom Cruise's Vanilla Sky was resplendent with Hollywood polish, the 1997 film it was based on, by The Others' Alejandro Amenábar, was much more gripping, gritty and raw: César (played by Eduardo Noriega) becomes David (Cruise) in the 2001 English-language production, although in both films, the new lover he 'steals' from his best friend is called Sofía and played by Penélope Cruz. In the Spanish original, however, she holds the unglamorous job as silver-sprayed static clown 'human statue' in a park. In Vanilla Sky, Sofía is Brian Shelby (Jason Lee)'s companion at the start; in Abre los Ojos, he accompanies Pelayo, played by Lovers of the Arctic Circle's Fele Martínez. Cameron Díaz, in the Hollywood remake, is jealous ex-girlfriend Julie Gianni, whilst in the original, she is called Nuria and played by fellow Arctic Circle actress Najwa Nimri. In both cases, Julie/Nuria offers David/César a lift home and deliberately crashes the car, killing herself and disfiguring the passenger.
César's life starts to go a bit weird, with unsettling visions, Nuria's face replacing Sofía's on photographs, and a strange man in a bar who tells him he could control the world if he wanted and telling him to remember 'Life Extension', and whom he keeps meeting again and again. Is it a dream, is it reality, is his mind playing tricks on him?
If you enjoyed the ghostly Nicole Kidman film The Others (Los Otros in Spanish), Abre los Ojos has a similar 'feel' to it, but with a more real, 'on-the-street' air than Cruise's top-budget US remake.
Other Amenábar films worth a watch include Mar Adentro ('The Sea Inside), based on the true story of paraplegic Ramón Sampedro (played by Penélope Cruz's husband, 'Bond villain' Javier Bardem) who is fighting for the right to end his life, and Tesis ('Thesis'), a dark thriller set inside a university.
Comic, bumbling, full of toilet humour and satirising of current affairs, the series starring and directed by Santiago Segura about detective José Luis Torrente consistently hogged the cinema listings from its first edition in 1998.
The five films about Segura's anti-hero, a racist, sexist, pro-Franco, heavy-drinking, recreational drug-using, Atlético de Madrid FC-supporting, regular brothel customer and, incidently, police officer (who still lives with his parents), start with Torrente: El Brazo Tonto de la Ley ('Torrente: The Stupid Arm of the Law') in which the title character uncovers a drug-dealing operation in a Chinese restaurant which he and a gang of friends of neighbour Rafi (whose mum is played by the late Almodóvar matriarch Chus Lampreave) decide to investigate and thwart; things don't go according to plan and several of them end up being murdered, but Torrente manages to get his hands on the ringleader's haul of €300,000 (50 million pesetas) and escapes with it, fleeing to Torremolinos in an ambulance.
Torrente 2: Misión en Marbella sees the unlikeable officer lose the whole 50 million pesetas in a casino, become self-employed and set up a private detective and security company in his rented flat on the Costa del Sol, through which he once again stumbles upon criminal activity – this time a terrorist threatening to attack Marbella unless he is paid two billion pesetas (€6 million), a nightclub boss who steals the microchip Spinelli the terrorist uses to control his missiles, and student detective and junkie Cuco who robs double agent Fabiano of his cash and an Atlético de Madrid badge. After successfully cracking the case, Torrente gets his job in the National Police force back.
In Torrente 3: El Protector, a parody of the Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard, European Member of Parliament Giannina Ricci visits Spain to investigate and shut down the environmentally-unfriendly multi-national Petronosa, which bribes the police to pretend to be her escorts but to let them get on with bumping her off. The escort in question is Torrente, who still owes 6,000 pesetas (€36) in whisky to his friend from the first film, and who washes his hands before he goes to the toilet rather than after.
Six years would pass before Torrente 4: Crisis Letal ('Lethal Crisis') was released, in 2011, in which the detective is commissioned as security guard at a wedding and blackmails the bride into having sex with him, or he'll tell her father he saw her doing so with a waiter at the reception. But the paparazzi snap them in fraganti from behind a curtain, the father of the bride orders Torrente to become an unpaid hitman, which lands the detective in jail. He escapes, blackmails the father of the bride, steals a child's ice lolly, and ends up in jail again.
He is finally released in 2018, at the start of Torrente 5: Operación Eurovegas, and finds Spain divided and in turmoil, which he decides to deal with by consciously setting himself 'above the law', deciding to burgle a casino-hotel resort known as Eurovegas with a team of buffoons.
Imagine the Police Academy series, but starring Ignatius Reilly from John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, and you've got the picture.
Photograph 1: Reasonwhy.es
Photographs 2 and 5: Amazon.com
Photographs 3 and 4: FilmAffinity
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