Spanish Film Festival (Auckland, 18th May 2011)
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 15 May 2011
It is clear the world’s Spanish language film industry generally is not just holding its own against the might of Hollywood, but is thriving. Serious, naturalistic, impassioned performances appear time and again in even the smallest of settings (the football-playing lads in the barrio of Caracas in Brother), and extraordinary situations arise out of the most ordinary tragedies (as with the devoted, grieving father’s efforts to bond with his young daughter in Anything You Want).
First up on opening night is the twice Oscar-nominated Biutiful starring Javier Bardem,playing a father and estranged husband weighed down with problems, and his own tragic secret, resulting in a lugubrious performance that saw him, and the film, nominated for Oscars. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has been doing “heavy” for many years, following his groundbreaking Amores Perros with highly acclaimed English language films such as 21 Grams and Babel. His latest may have something of a depressing tone, but it concludes on an uplifting note, one that’s likely to either engage or enrage.
Venezuelan film Brother also pits loss and revenage against the background of two brothers vying for a place on the Caracas FC football team – a move which would get them out of their neighbourhood and away from its troubles. Gato is a devoted brother and son who gets caught up in the dangerous politics of the local criminal underworld after tragedy strikes the family. Meanwhile, talent scouts are waving contracts under his nose. The performances are uniformly excellent and the action fast-paced.
The opening shots of Anything You Want initially seem at odds with the subtle, picturesque story that unfolds, as a young family struggles to deal with the sudden death of their mother. Busy, preoccupied father Leo rapidly realises he needs be present for his beautiful four-year old Dafne, a little girl wise beyond her years, yet still patently in need of her mother. Leo develops an unlikely friendship with a female impersonator in order to fulfil his perceived need to be all things to all people.
For more hard knocks, the gripping Cell 211 returns from last year’s film festival, in which a prison is overtaken by its inmates.