SPANISH BREAD – A Serving of 5 Spanish Films

EL JUEGO DELA SILLA (Musical Chairs)

The film is about Victor who returns to his hometown for a day to visit his family as a break from his work in America. He is treated with a homecoming celebration from his family with food, traditional trips down memory lane, and quirky family rituals. Ana Katz, the director, successfully moved the audience to tears and laughter with her presentation of this funny and dysfunctional family. The film delivers some of the finest, subdued performances from the actors, especially the matriarch who I can only lovingly refer to as a domestic diva. With Katz’s clever use of exposition (particularly the use of the musical chairs), the characters grow into us and we fall in love with them, hate them, and fall in love with them all over again and we get to understand why Victor, at the end of the movie, comes to realize that the family that he fled from years ago is the same family that makes him want to return to.

LA PRIMERA NOCHE (The First Night)

The film is about Paulina and Tonio who escapes their war-torn village in one of the remote provinces of Colombia. They decide to go to Bogota to re-build their lives shattered by a civil war. The structure of the film is very interesting. The story was told in a fashion of a beginning-of-a-beginning-of-a-beginning—Luis Restrepo opened the film with the beginning of re-building their life, interspersed with the beginnings of Paulina and Tonio’s relationship, and although the film ended, it is marked with a more tragic beginning of shattered hopes. Restrepo’s focus on Paulina and Tonio’s first night in Bogota was a venue to explore the characters’ inner conflicts and motives which we understand more and compels us to empathize with them with the accurate use of intercuts of each of the character’s pasts, essential in defining the characters’ need to start their life anew. The performances of the two leads deserve the highest recognition possible. They were able to show the contrast of inner strength and weak facades (and vice-versa) through impeccable reaction shots choreographed by Restrepo. With all the elements of good film-making in place, by the end of the film, as an audience, it makes us question (and pray) if there still exists that seemingly elusive flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for Tonio and Paulina.

SMOKING ROOM

I was able to watch the Spanish film “Smoking Room” primarily because I am a heavy smoker and the idea of gathering signatures requesting for a smoking room in the office in the fight for one’s right to smoke was very fascinating and wanted me to write petition letters to lawmakers. I came in with the interest of how the story will unfold. To my surprise, the movie was more than about the smoking room. It explored how corporations are devoid of compassion to their employees, oblivious of the fact that they are still human beings. The film was a reminder of David Mamet’s, “Glengary, GlenRoss”. It tackles the reality that employees are not just one of the many machine parts which comprises this larger machinery called the corporation. They are people who have personal problems and that no matter how companies slave-drive these people to perform their functions as employees, personal problems will always catch up and eventually affect their performance. Wallowits and Gual decided to give each character their own spotlight time with monologues to express their difficulties and miseries as people and how they cope with these problems, tightly shot with hand-held extreme close ups. They succeeded in exhibiting the workplace as a microcosm and that the need for a smoking room was a representation of the working class’s attempt to maintain the reality that they are human beings and not merely cogs that need to turn to push the corporate machinery forward in achieving its goals. However, the danger of ensemble films is the potential crashing of audience interest since there are many characters that they have to follow and if the writing does not provide a common ground that links the characters even they are embarking on totally different journeys, the pace of the film is doomed. In the case of this film, the smoking room seemed to have been underutilized as the main plot point, making the film fragmented and the audience is left watching five different characters with five different stories and struggles.

LA CAJA 507 (Box 507)

The film is about Modesto, an ordinary bank manager, who’s life was changed in the opening of the movie by the accidental death of his daughter in a forest fire and years later was given another twist when his bank was robbed and he wakes up locked in the vault. While trapped in the vault, he discovers a document contained in Box 507 that brought questions about his daughter’s death seven years ago.

Enrique Urbizu exhibits tight direction of a film that chose to follow a very risky structure that could pull the audience’s interest in two separate ways which will bear catastrophic effects when ineffectively executed. The lives of the characters cross paths at the beginning of the film, went their own ways to achieve their own goals connected to the circumstances surrounding the death of the girl, and once again meet in the end which makes the ending explode with sweet revenge. Urbizu’s balance of implied and explicit violence was masterfully executed making scenes more visceral and provide the audience an opportunity to wince in pain. The actors should be commended for delivering very controlled yet powerful performances in the film. Antonio Resines makes the audience want to organize themselves and give him a helping hand with his endearing, dick-swinging approach as he moves to higher places in unearthing the truth about his daughter’s death and demanding justice. Overall, the film is something that you will either love or hate because of its non-traditional story-telling approach.

EN LA CIUDAD SIN LIMITES (THE CITY OF NO LIMITS)

The film created the mystery it needed to generate ala “The Usual Suspects” where we are waiting for the answer to the question: “Who is Kaiser Sose?” In “En La Ciudad..”, however, it is the mystery of “Rancel” that the main character is drawn to unravel. Set against the backdrop of a family facing the death of their ailing father, the premise (not to mention the handsome lead) was able to elicit interest from the audience to tag along for his search for the truth about his ailing father’s rantings of conspiracy and “Rancel”. However, Antonio Hernandez’s choice of style in directing the movie distracts us from the story line. He overdid camera work with trying to be stylish with his unnecessary zoom ins and MTV-like shots instead of helping specific scenes convey a sense of eeriness, melancholy, frustration, and/or tension. As for the story, I felt that the story picked up in the last third of the movie which delivers a semi-sweet ending. Another problem of the film lies in the looseness of the script and underdeveloped characters subsequently creating a ripple effect reaching the performances of the actors–with the exception of Ana Hernandez who need not deliver the lines to gallavant the strength and cold-heartedness of the matriarch character.

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