Spanish Cinema in the Official Section

in 61st San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Eva Peydró

Spanish cinema had an important presence in the 61st Festival de San Sebastián, where three films were in competition in the Official Section.

For director Manuel Martín Cuenca it was his third time at San Sebastian, having taken part in the Zabaltegui Section with his beautiful first film The Weakness of the Bolshevik (La flaqueza del bolchevique) in 2001. After that, in 2005, he competed in the Official Section with Malas temporadas. In 2013, he presented the film Canibal (Caníbal), which provoked a great expectation due to the subject matter: Carlos, a prestigious tailor in Granada (south of Spain) lives a double life and, under the appearance of a respectable person, he hides an assassin who devours his victims. The minimalistic action, thoroughly repetitive, to mark the acting routines and the simplicity of his way of life, spreads to his criminal activity, which he executes without passion, and with calculated coldness. Gifted actor Antonio de la Torre, in the leading role, incarnates a particular assassin that finally almost collapses when faced with love. The trickery in the script plays on the double with the roles of two sisters, performed by the same actress. The most extroverted one dies in Carlos’ hands, whilst the other one, of sheer and discreet character, awakens loving feelings in him. In spite of the excellent performances from Antonio de la Torre and Olimpia Melinte who achieves her task without ostentations, as well as the exquisite direction of Martin Cuenca, Canibal doesn’t manage to take off, nor does it reach the height of his previous films. The austerity that revealed in the film, instead of provoking a sensation of inconvenience or uneasiness by means of the argument and the style of this director, risks leaving the audience indifferent or disgusted by the horrible vision of the cannibalism. Far from revellingin the suspense or worrying about the keycharacters, Martin Cuenca manages to plunge us into world-weariness with unnecessary or redundant sequences.

There is undeniable talent from photographer Pau Esteve, who gives us some striking and beautiful images; as the particular “Piety” related to the religious iconography the film is steeped in, and as such was recognized for the prize for best photography at the Festival. Unfortunately, a weak script and a slight problem of pace, as well as other factors, prevent Canibal from reaching the height of expectation.

Conversely, David Trueba, as scriptwriter and director, presented Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados, 2013), a movie set in the Spain of 1966. Concerned with implicating he spectator as complicit through identification of customs and mannerisms specific to the historical moment, this film is a comedy with a profound ambition. Three main characters, a woman and two men from different social extractions share in common an anxiety over freedom in post-war Spain. They reconstruct their destinies through ha road movie inspired by real facts: Antonio (Javier Cámara) is an English teacher looking for John Lennon in Almeria, where he is shooting How I Won the War, in order to ask him for the lyrics to his songs so he can help his pupils with their lessons; Belén (Natalia de Molina) is a twenty-year-old pregnant woman who flees a home for single mothers and Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a teenager of sixteen, has escaped his father’s tyranny. Together, they will find the route to personal freedom, fellowship in the group, as well as wise advice from the teacher and the forces they face in their own lives. The originality of the real anecdotes contributes to its great charm and very precise script, particularly in relation to the setting and the plot, though it treats the main characters and their development in the film unequally. The focus on artistic direction and the description of the good man and his efforts in contacting a celebrity are the strong points of Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, while the blurry secondary ones and some descriptions lacking of depth are a handicap.

The third Spanish film in competition was the astonishing Wounded (La herida, 2013), directed by Fernando Franco, former film editor on important films Snow White (Blancanieves, 2012) and Don’t be Afraid (No tengas miedo, 2011). He presented his first feature film after having directed six short films, deserving the Special Prize of the Jury. The private story of Ana (Marian Álvarez), a young ambulance driver, deeply thrilled the audience as it was written and directed with enormous respect and also with the necessary closeness to give an uneasy and disturbing feeling that led to the understanding of her character. Obviously, the echoes of the Dardenne brothers are present in this impressive début, an agile even tough and suffocating movie, capable of imparting untoothers distress and the bitter taste of being inside Ana’s skin.

The craftused by the author to describe the Borderline Personality Disorder and the suffering that it causes are the result of his objective and respectful observation and conduct, as well as the depiction of the reactions of indifference or aversion that her behaviour provokes in her family, work colleagues and friends. Fernando Franco’s strong hand does not turn to sensationalism to achieve effect nor to pity, showing diverse facets of Ana’s everyday, sympathetic behaviour as well as the compulsive and the self-destructive aspects of her condition. Paradoxically, the director acknowledges that Ana is not an easy person to love, yet, on the contrary, he does not offer crudeness in the portrayal of her reactions towards others. Marian Álvarez is superb as Ana and deserved her award: the Silver Seashell. An interior beauty tormented by the pain and suffering, the simplicity and the warped feelings take form in Álvarez; the powerful minimalism of great actresses.

Edited by Tara Judah