Spanish Cinema In Donostia

in 60th San Sebastian International Film Festival

by José Enrique Monterde

The powerful presence of Spanish cinema in the official selection of the 60th edition of the San Sebastián International Film Festival offered an interesting paradox. On the one hand, the films in competition constituted a powerful offering, as the jury itself recognized, and were varied. On the other hand, they were completely oblivious to the difficult times in our country at present. It must be recalled that the selection included a film like Snow White (Blancanieves) directed by Pablo Berger, who took the famous narrative and transferred it to a distorted 1920’s Spain, mixing elements of a certain Spanish culture – the Andalusia of bullfighters and flamenco – with polished staging in black and white, disregarding diegetic sound, although in a very different manner to The Artist. Actually it is an exercise in style, capable of combining different trends of silent cinema, with an emphasis on the Expressionist tradition, which reaffirms the unreality of treating history.

The Artist and the Model (El artista y la modelo) from veteran Fernando Trueba, which is also filmed in black and white, plays out in the south of occupied France in 1942, and shows the commitment of a famous sculptor (not far from someone like Aristides Maillol) as he tries to capture feminine beauty in his latest work. A French version lacking in music until the final shot, it focuses primarily on the relationship between the old artist (played by the great Jean Rochefort, accompanied by the great Claudia Cardinale) and his young and exuberant model. The historical context undermines rather than supports the central intention of the plot.

The Dead and Being Happy (El muerto y ser feliz), the third film by Javier Rebollo and the FIPRESCI Prize-winner, also moves away from contemporary Spain, because it is a “road movie” set in the lost roads of northern Argentina, following a wandering character played by one of the most popular actors of Spanish cinema from the seventies (José Sacristán), who is supposedly a hitman and is now terminally ill. The film is not as interested in the development of successive meetings and actions of the character as the film treatment. Here abounds the human voice itself, since the whole film is accompanied by a voice-over anticipating the subsequent action, contributing to risky narrative experimentation.

Beyond the actual value of these three films, which were able to distance themselves from the most common forms of Spanish cinema, it’s surprising they forgot all the circumstances affecting contemporary Spanish society. Two titles presented out of competition also contributed to this distance. The Impossible (Lo imposible), the second film of Juan Antonio Bayona, who debuted with The Orphanage (El orfanato), tells of the adventure of a family struck by the tsunami that hit Thailand, while Robbery! (!Atraco!) from Eduardo Cortés is about the theft of the jewels of Evita Perón in Madrid in 1955.

Hence a thought: when in a few decades someone looks to see the Spanish crisis of our time reflected in the era’s cinema they will hardly find a trace of this in many of the most significant films produced, while recognizing the stylistic values that adorn them.

Edited by Carmen Gray