The Catalan Presence

in 54th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Angel Comas Puente

Catalunya is a small autonomous community in Spain, with 32,000 km² occupied by almost 7.5 million inhabitants and its own language and culture. Since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, cinema has been an important part of Catalan culture. In the last two decades there has been a movement, the New Catalan Cinema, which has little to do with films made in the rest of Spain. Directors such as Marc Recha, José Luis Guerin, José Luis Bayona, Isabel Coixet, Ventura Pons and Bigas Luna move between experimental and commercial films. In the last five years, the number of Catalan films in proportion to Spanish films has increased. Not all of these are in the Catalan language – Castilian, French and English are also spoken, since Catalan producers are open to making film co-productions everywhere. By contrast, Barcelona is Spain’s capital of TV movies.

This year’s festival gives me the opportunity to speak about some of these new Catalan movies: small films, “poor films”, low-budget works which experiment with language. The Catalan films shown at Valladolid are representative of the movement. Two of them competed in the Official Section: Adam Aliaga’s feature debut Estigmas and Marc Recha’s sixth film, Petit Indi. Aliaga is still an unknown but Recha is a well-known aurthor, very popular in France and on the festival circuit. What they have in common is a peculiar point of view, a desire not to fit in with conventions.

Prior to Estigmas, Aliaga had made only a documentary; he now moves into fiction without forgetting his past experience. Estigmas is a history of loneliness and religion; its main character has stigmata and is considered a freak (or perhaps a saint), living in marginal surroundings, treated with disdain. Aliaga tells the man’s story in a documentary style influenced by Buñuel and Fellini.

Petit Indi represents a step forward for Recha, a man who has created an unclassifiable style. This is in theory a fiction film, but with the look of a documentary. It is not a mockumentary, but a film that uses a peculiar approach to tell a realistic story with a poetic touch. Recha’s films have always been documentaries of a kind, shifting between reality and fiction. In Petit Indi, he shows how a young boy can lose his innocence (an innocence unusual in this particular quarter of Barcelona) without falling into the usual clichés and commonplaces. As always, Recha is faithfully devoted to a cinema without genres, made without rules – especially commercial ones. Both Petit Indi and Estigmas represent a way of making films which defines part of the new Catalan cinema.

In the Catalan co-production La Isla Interior, Canary Island directors Félix Sabroso and Duna Ayaso make what might be their best film of their career, a story about the lack of communication in today’s society. Luna Caliente, by another Catalan director – Vicente Aranda, the oldest working filmmaker in Spain – takes an ironic approach to a classic film noir story.

Catalan movies were also present in the festival’s interesting “Punto de Encuentro” (Meeting Point) section, reserved largely for new directors and “difficult” films. Eloïse, a dramatic portrait of an 18-year-old girl in a coma, marks a new turn in Jesús Garay’s career. In the 90s, Garay made a very specific, personal style of fantasy film; now, reality is his leitmotif. Estació de l’Oblit also represents a change for its director, Christian Molina, who moves into a psychological story after making genre films. Finally, Xtrems, the opera prima of Abel Folk and Joan Riedweg, speaks with authority on addiction. Seven other Catalan films were shown in the festival’s Spanish cinema section.

Edited by Lesley Chow