For a couple of weeks in March, all plans revolve around the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin-American film festival held at the Cornerhouse cinema and exhibition space in Manchester.
Showing the best of current and classic films from directors as diverse as Carlos Saura, Alex de la Iglesia, Benito Zambrano, Icíar Bollaín and Emilio Aragón, the Cornerhouse is the place to catch up on all things cine every year in March.
This year’s offering is the 19th annual event and in anticipation of this year’s opening gala on Friday 8th March, here’s a selection of my favourite Spanish language films that I shall be re-watching between now and then.
1. ¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto? (Pedro Almodóvar – 1984)
A film from before the “Hollywoodisation” of Almodóvar and the inspiration for the title of this blog, no review of Spanish film can be complete without mention of The Great One. This 1984 film was my first taste of Spanish cinema as a Spanish A Level student and I love it as much now as I did then. It centres around the lives of a dysfunctional madrileño family living in one of the cramped high-rises which line the M30 ring road. Worth watching to understand why Carmen Maura was Almodóvar’s early muse, to laugh at a fabulously clever relationship between Grandson and Grandmother and to see Madrid as the setting for a film in which the city becomes one of the characters of the film itself.
2. Abre Los Ojos (Alejandro Amenábar – 1997)
Ok, Abre Los Ojos featured in my last post and it will probably be shoe-horned into my next one but that’s how much I love it! The precursor of Hollywood’s Vanilla Sky, Abre Los Ojos has a mind-blowingly original plot and great acting from Eduardo Noriega and Penélope Cruz. Plot twists and turns will keep you hooked and true to form, Amenábar leaves the viewer with more questions than answers as the final credits roll. Would you choose to become cryogenically frozen if severely disfigured in a near fatal car accident in the hope of being “brought back to life” in the future?
Look out for a cameo appearance by Amenábar himself too.
3. Tesis (Alejandro Amenábar – 1996)
If you have already seen and enjoyed Noriega’s performance in Abre Los Ojos, you should see him in Tesis, Amenábar’s film which deals with the controversial question of violence on screen and in particular the “snuff movie”. Set on a university campus, Ana Torrent (child star of classics El Espíritu de la Colmena and Cría Cuervos) plays Ángela, a student who is researching her thesis on violence in movies. Her research leads her to suspect that someone on campus is making snuff movies. Her quest to uncover them takes the viewer on a thrilling ride.
4. Bienvenido Mr Marshall (Luis García Berlanga – 1952)
Bienvenido Mr Marshall is one of the earliest anti-Franco films to be released. It is an amusing film which uses comic realism and satire to attack the regime’s hopes to benefit from the Marshall Plan. Set in a small town called Villar del Río, this film is definitely one to watch to get a taste of cinema of this period in Spain’s unique history – don’t be put off if you are normally turned off by black-and-whites. Clever and funny on many levels, watch out for the hilarious but blink and you’ll miss it twist at the end!
5. El Orfanato (Guillermo del Toro – 2007)
El Orfanato by Mexican director has the beautiful quality of being very Spanish and yet universal at the same time. Belén Rueda’s acting is awesome as Laura, who moves her family to an old orphanage with plans to renovate it and open up a residence for handicapped children. When her own adopted son Simón, begins to play games with his “invisible friends” she suspects that there is a presence in the old building which threatens the safety of her and her family.
Cushion required! If you don’t find the film “jumpy” it may come in handy for hiding the tears at the end!