Spanish Cinema in Berlin - from sobriety to arrogance.

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Alejandra Trelles

The representation of the Spanish Cinema in Berlin, with four films in different sections – although none in the main competition – offers a good illustrative balance between hyped films that inflated expectations and low budget films placed in sections with lower profiles that turned out to be more satisfying.

Thus, all the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the two Spanish films in the official selection (out of competition) and Panorama (coincidentally or not, both under the aegis of Álex de la Iglesia, director of The Bar and producer and godfather of Skins) amounted to nothing more than strident and puerile hits. As a result, both works generated dissatisfaction and even discomfort because under the noise of media, they hide a lack of ideas and their formulation is poor.

On the opposite side, there is Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993) that arrived at the Generation section without previous references and without known names in its cast, or heavy sponsorships or media groups. It gave us the pleasure of seeing how, sometimes, movies of brutal honesty manage to overcome obstacles and attract audience through word of mouth. This modest film left a mark and won the award for best first feature, whereas Skins and The Bar were destroyed by the international press which is alien to the games of the Spanish film industry and their media.

Summer 1993, maybe one of the best films seen in this edition of the Berlinale. The young filmmaker Carla Simon tells an intimate story, presumably inspired by her own childhood, through the difficult but sunny days of the summer of 1993. At the age of six, the protagonist loses her mother to AIDS, followed by the death of her father. Simon manages to stay away from obvious drama, building her film with the echoes of her memories, as a heartbeat of childhood resilient to pain, with her new life and new family: her aunt, uncle and younger cousin.

The naturalness that the director extracts from the little Laia Artigas is a wonder. The story of the orphan is introduced through the most trivial details. For her, pain is postponed, or deferred, as the paradise of childhood does not allow the complete awareness of such a terrible loss. It is on this landscape of fragility and beauty where Carla Simon is filming, with unusual alchemy, the honest and huge Summer 1993.

On the other hand, Skins, also a first feature by a young Spanish Filmmaker, Eduardo Casanova, former TV actor, fails in its approach to bizarre sexuality. The film starts with a well sustained, though disgusting, sequence, in which Antonio Duran Morris pays a naked elderly Madame to have sex with an eleven year-old girl with no eyes. From that starting point, Casanova shows a nonstop overly provocative gallery of freak non- erotic erotica that includes enemas in morbid obesities, unshaped and burnt faces, dwarfs. The film’s strength or its capacity to wow is quickly drown by the pink chromatism of the film that wraps, and finally devours, the alleged air of transgression. Because below that epidermis of paraphiliac cinema, what beats in Skins is a background of redemption. Skins, thus, is poisoned with pink – not punk – spirit, and its transgressive proclamation remains nonsense.

To complete a Spanish contribution to the official selection, the very famous Álex de la Iglesia arrived in Berlin to deceive the critics –but not so much the audience- with The Bar. He starts with one of his best ideas: nothing less than orchestrating the sinking of a cruise ship and the struggle of the survivors reduced as part of a neighbourhood Cafe. It is as if the adventure of the Poseidon took place in the space of a bar and of a basement that leads to the sewers. The connections with the 1972 film are more than notorious and concern the second part of the film, in that Dantesque basement. The situations are the same as in Ronald Neame and Irwin Allen’s film: the difficulty of moving a body through a narrow space (Shelley Winters in the Neame film, Carmen Machi here), or the ladder leading outside in one of the last sequences. But that cinephile link short-circuits the film because of the inability of Álex de la Iglesia to build a proper script and write a dialogue without bad jokes or eschatology. The result is this tiring feature with the arrogance of a bad blockbuster.

Edited by Yael Shuv