New Spanish Films Dealing with the Past By Dennis West

in 51st Valladolid International Film Festival

by Dennis West

For a long time the Semana Internacional de Cine de Valladolid has promoted Spanish cinema. The 51st edition of the festival in 2006 continued this tradition. Three new Spanish feature films were shown in the official selection. The esthetic quality of these films varied widely, but all three films presented interesting themes.

In Women in the Park (Mujeres en el parque) veteran director Felipe Vega skillfully explores in a realist manner the unusual emotional and psychological tensions in a middle-aged, middle-class ménage-à-trois. The film is set today in the Spanish capital Madrid. Vega, who co-wrote the script, examines this relationship through the curious eyes of a young woman, who seeks to better understand her parents. The script surprises in the development of the plot, and the narrative’s air of mystery is intriguing for the viewers. The film’s greatest success is its sensitive exploration of differences and expectations — between the generation that came of age in the 1970s and today’s generation.

Alvaro del Amo who co-wrote and directed the feature film The Dreyer Series (El ciclo Dreyer) puts his realistic drama in Madrid in the 1960s when the authoritarian, right-wing dictator Francisco Franco was still in power. However, this was also a period when Spanish young people for the first time were influenced by cultural events outside of Spain. They would think about their own lives in Spain once Franco disappeared from the political scene. The most significant setting del Amo uses is the cine-club, one of the few social meeting points in Franco’s Spain where intellectuals could freely meet to exchange ideas. Del Amo introduces his principal characters in this unusual setting: four bourgeois young people who are uncertain about the direction of their future lives and who, of course, will fall in love with each other or break up. Unfortunately, del Amo’s exploration of the Franco era remains very superficial — it is a missed opportunity. Furthermore, the film’s mise-en-scène and the development of the narrative tend to be clunky and frequently predictable — almost laughable at times.

Certainly the best of the Spanish feature films in the Official Selection was the black comedy The Box (La caja), the first film by young director Juan Carlos Falcon. Falcon hails from the Canary Islands, and he sets his story there in the 1960s. The film takes place in the twenty-four hour period following the unexpected death of a middle-aged man who, as it turns out later, was hated by many members of the community for being an avid supporter of the Franco regime. He did not hesitate exploiting his fellow citizens or even turning them over to Franco’s authorities. Falcon, also co-writer, skillfully entices the viewer to understand the hateful nature of the deceased. Falcon’s art of characterization produces unexpected actions. The dead man’s tongue is suddenly cut out by a mourner and then we learn that he was an informer. Falcon also uses other weapons in the arsenal of black humor. In this way he develops an in-depth exploration of the Franco era. And his characters themselves become developed and well rounded. Probably Falcon’s greatest achievement is that he keeps his audience well entertained in the long-standing Spanish tradition of black humor. With The Box, Falcon introduces himself as a promising young filmmaker. His future work will be eagerly awaited.