Idolatry can transform an obscure director into a deified artist, making everything that he/she touches turn into gold. Unfortunately, this transformation can also place impossible expectations on top of a director’s shoulders. For example, Pedro Almodóvar’s consistent output of well-crafted characters and complex narratives has created an expectation that Almodóvar’s latest films will be as brilliant as the last ones. This broad generalization whitewashes some of Almodóvar’s misfires – Kika (1993) and Broken Embraces (2009) immediately come to mind – but the fact remains that Almodóvar’s filmography has continued to generate a great deal of dedicated fanaticism. Unfortunately,
In aviation parlance, ‘flying a hold’ refers to a tactic for a plane that is already in flight and is experiencing problems but cannot yet make an emergency landing until assigned a runway. Part of ‘flying a hold’ is flying the plane in an elliptical pattern as it waits for a runway. This elliptical pattern is sometimes referred to as the ‘racetrack,’ as it resembles the invisible pathway that the plane makes. Pedro Almodóvar makes this ambiguous, strange space between the skies and the earth the principal setting for his return to comedy with the film I’m So Excited!. On the one hand, it is indeed a continuing development of Almodóvar’s love affair with the screwball comedy, which is always welcome any day of the year, rain or shine. On the other hand, it signals a new parallel development for the filmmaker in that it is the first time that he shot digitally. Although diehard fans of the Almodóvar brand of comedy will be quick to take out their notes on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and make comparisons, I’m So Excited! contains many wonderful entertaining elements to stand on its own, if just to the left of the spotlight within Almodóvar’s overall filmography.
By all outward appearances, Pol (Oriol Pla), is just an average teenager. Living with his brother in the countryside, Pol rides his bike to school every day where he struggles to understand who he really is and where he fits in. Animals is the first feature film of Marçal Forés and after seeing it, I’m excited to know he’s at the beginning of what will hopefully be a long career.
Argentinian filmmaker Lucía Puenzo’s Wakolda, competing in Un Certain Regard, starts out like any other coming-of-age period drama, before taking the darkest of turns into decidedly creepy territory. It’s 1960 and Eva and Enzo are driving their family across Argentina to open a hotel they have inherited. En route they meet a handsome, charismatic veterinarian who is headed for the same town as them. The vet registers as the hotel’s first guest and quickly becomes close to the family, even investing in toymaker Enzo’s doll-manufacturing business. But he takes a particular interest in the daughter, 12-year-old Lilith, whose growth has been stunted due to her premature birth, leaving her looking little older than 8 or 9. The vet begins prescribing growth hormones for Lilith, and she starts to look upon him as a saviour who can help her overcome her body’s limitations and schoolyard bullies.
The simple ghost story structure has been transformed into a compelling drama with jump scares. Sadly, the resulting film fails in fully satisfying either genre demands. You’ll either get a mediocre horror film or a mediocre dysfunctional family adventure depending on your inclination. It’s the risk one takes in birthing a hybrid. However, regardless of the outcome, the courageous breaking of form can stand alone as something to be commended… or at least a pat on the back is in order.
Watching The Impossible, we realize there is no limit to human courage and empathy. Such traits are buried deep within us, and it’s to our detriment that many of us rarely tap the dense reserve. Maybe we’re too complacent. Maybe it’s too difficult. But in the absolute harshest of circumstances, when it would be easiest to give in and surrender to the elements, our survival instinct kicks in, our power bar fills up, and we engage the fierce struggle. If we are capable of summoning such immense strength by sheer will – if we are so compelled to not merely risk our lives to protect those we love, but also reach out to help others in the same situation – then why can’t we look to our shared humanity when our lives aren’t in peril? We are all rats in this maze, with shared hopes, dreams, fears, and desires. We are clearly capable of pulling together when the waves are rough. So why can’t we stay together when the tide calms?
Invoking from its opening the overarching metaphor of Spirit of the Beehive, debut director Ana Piterbarg’s Everybody Has a Plan chooses an appropriate influence for its exploration of identity—both individual and communal—within the context of violence and conflict. It stars Viggo Mortensen in his fourth Spanish language role—and first set and shot in his childhood home of Argentina—as twin brothers Augustín and Pedro, respectively a well-to-do city doctor and a criminally-inclined beekeeper residing still in the village of the brothers’ youth. Their shared history, unspoken between them when Pedro arrives in Augustín’s apartment after years of estrangement, forms the backbone of Piterbarg’s investigation of the very constitution of uniqueness.
Though Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger has only two feature films under his belt (and made nearly a decade apart), his two films Torremolinos 73 (2003) and Blancanieves (2012) present a confluence of details and characteristics that make of him an adventurous cinematic spirit and an exciting filmmaker to watch and develop in the coming years. Put bluntly, his two features are marked by a rather ambitious auteur vision marked by strong cinephilia and transnational savvy; a sense of the humourous and carnivalesque that at times borders on the grotesque; and a propensity (thus far) to recapture the atmosphere of past eras. In the process, he puts in dynamic dialogue Spanish and transnational influences, histories, and cultures.
The Monk (2013), set in Spain in 1565 tells the story of a man who was left at the door of a monastery instead of being thrown into a river by his bearer. Lucky break for the kid. When the monks discovered him, they found a birthmark on his right shoulder in the form of a hand that some thought to be the print of Satan, others the mark of God.
Of the vast plethora of recent films which deign to deal with the fallout of the financial crisis, few have had the confidence to broach the subject with comedy, even horror—for once—a more widely-used tool in the exploration of these key contemporary issues. Álex de la Iglesia opts to broaden the field with As Luck would Have It, a quasi-absurdist production that ably juggles the responsibilities of portraying with sincerity and sensitivity the difficult lives of the financially troubled with the requirement of entertaining its audience through the increasing oddity of this politically-charged parable.