Quien Te Cantara? (2019)

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Direction: Carlos Vermut
Country: Spain

Influenced by the Spanish pop culture and a few master directors, Madrid-born Carlos Vermut assembled his third feature, Quien Te Cantara?, with poetic, dramatic, and uncanny tones. Lamentably, the fine gothic tinge applied to the imagery couldn’t hamper the story, set in Rota, Andalucia, from feeling tediously monochromatic.

Lila Cassen (Najwa Nimri), the most celebrated pop star in Spain, inexplicably vanished from the stages for ten years. When she finally decides for a comeback tour, an accident steals her memory, putting all her fortune and high-end lifestyle at stake. The good news is that her amnesia seems to be partial since she was able to recognize herself and Shakira in pictures.

Her devoted agent and longtime friend, Blanca Guerrero (Carme Elias), is disquieted with the situation, realizing that touring is imperative for the artist's future. And that’s when she devises a weird plan to have Lila learning how to be herself again with the help of a staunch admirer and flawless imitator, Violeta (Eva Llorach), a karaoke performer who is manipulated and abused by her insolent 23-year-old daughter Marta (Natalia de Molina). Marked by an inner sadness, the two women become closer, sharing laughs and tears, and their past and present slowly blur into an opaque transference of identities.

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Laced with revelational yet laborious self-examinations, this is a sleep-inducing melodrama that never earns what it works so hard to accomplish. Except for the mother/daughter scenes, whose sudden emotional catharsis is reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman, the film lingers in a lethargic narrative, while probing, sometimes in the same scene, Fassbinder-like decadence and Hitchcockian mystery.

With occasional stiffness and an unattractive score getting in the way, Quien Te Cantara? is not as mesmerizing as Vermut’s previous neo-noir, Magical Girl (2014).

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The Realm (2019)

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Direction: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Country: Spain

Teaming up for the second time in their careers, director Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Stockholm; May God Save Us) and actor Antonio de la Torre (Cannibal; A Twelve-Year Night) star in The Realm, a fast-paced political thriller set in Spain. The film packs a wealth of revelatory truth about the way things really unfold in political spheres, working as a wake-up call for dirty political schemes that accommodate high-end lifestyles as well as a character study that exposes a shameless corrupt and tenacious snob.

The charismatic regional vice-secretary Manuel Lopez Vidal (de la Torre) devised an illegal stratagem to fill his pockets fast, but is unmasked when his close friend, Paco (Nacho Fresneda) is accused of corruption. Recordings of compromising phone conversations are leaked and, suddenly, the prosperous, easy life of the politician is jeopardized by a thorough investigation that can send him to jail.

Prepotent and arrogant, Manuel detests being discarded by the members of his own party, but things get much worse when Amaia Marin (Bárbara Lennie), a fearless reporter, decides to uncover his misconducts publicly. Even so, this perfidious man thinks that confidence and persuasiveness can save him.

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In front of everyone are the usual scandals that bring politicians down: luxurious vacations in exotic destinies, bribery and fraud, influence peddling and money laundry, conspiracy and corruption, and even those long, exorbitant lunches stuffed with roly-poly prawns and pretentious poses.

Although the dramatic heat is limited and the final section - the one infused with some action - is a bit strained, there are details deserving attention. The Realm doesn’t cover new ground in the shadier tactics of politicians, but is ingeniously acted and well-meaning in its efforts to denounce their outrageous behaviors, impudent attitude, and obsession for power.

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The Tree of Blood (2019)

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Direction: Julio Medem
Country: Spain

Layered like a zigzagging soap opera and mounted with a pretentious artificiality, The Tree of Blood leads us to unexciting places. The story focuses on two lovers, Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) and Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó), who return to their hometown in the Basque Country, Spain, with the purpose of unveiling and writing the complex stories of their families. The generational secrets emerge slowly, giving them the pleasure of discovery and imagination. After a while, they realize that two brothers strangely tie their family trees.

Marc’s mother, Nuria (Lucía Delgado), married Olmo (Joaquín Furriel), a secretive man with connections to the Russian mafia. In turn, Rebeca discloses that Olmo’s brother, Victor (Daniel Grao), was the man who raised her after her mother has been admitted in a hospice for mental illness treatment. Unexpectedly, all the amusement of the young couple radically changes when their personal secrets start to be revealed.

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San Sebastian-born director Julio Medem mixes a tiny bit of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surrealism, the tension of Alejandro Amenabar’s crime thrillers, and the eroticism that his own previous films had already shown, cases of Sex and Lucia (2001) and Room in Rome (2010). However, everything is sloppily glued-up, and the film becomes an abominable part-erotic, part-psychological pastiche.

Extra care was given to the cinematography, wonderfully controlled by Kiko de la Rica (the black-and-white of Blancanieves remains his best pictorial achievement), who rejoins the director after the disastrous Ma Ma (2015). The images of The Tree of Blood exhibit that sophisticated gloss worthy of a classy art-house film. However, under the surface, lies an empty soul. As opposed to transgressive and original, the film got stuck in stereotypes, becoming narratively ineffectual and dramatically unenjoyable. The nature of the script demanded focus as well as a taut, responsive execution, something that Medem was unable to enforce.

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Everybody Knows (2018)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Country: Spain / France / Italy

The work of some distinguished directors loses the charm and often the focus when they operate in a different cultural milieu. This syndrome seems to have caught Iranian master Asghar Farhadi, who gave us gems like About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), and The Salesman (2016). Sad to say he stains his filmography with Nobody Knows, a fictional thriller set in Spain that unfolds monotonously and only sporadically piques our interest. Orienting a luxurious cast that includes Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin, Farhadi failed to provide startles and thrills, relying solely on the dramatic side of things to impress. But even that factor was disastrous as he tiresomely attempts to suggest connections between the past and the present.

The film starts by capturing some newspaper clippings that reveal the disappearance of a little girl named Carmen. When Laura (Cruz) arrives at her small, picturesque hometown with their three children to attend her sister’s wedding, she couldn’t imagine she had been already chosen as an indirect target for something similar. In recent years, she has been living in Buenos Aires, where her architect husband, Alejandro (Darin), remained due to work commitments.

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The wedding’s festivities suddenly turn into a river of tears when Laura’s teen daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), disappears mysteriously. She had been kidnapped while resting in her room and the ransom is 30 thousand euros. Obviously, there was a mole at the party and the kidnappers can be either family or friends. Jorge (José Ángel Egido ), a retired policeman who acts as he knows all the answers, studies possible motives and tries to find a logic for the puzzle.

All the same, the only one with the financial means to resolve the imbroglio is Paco (Bardem), Laura’s former lover, who is well established as a local vineyard owner. Intriguingly, Paco’s wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie), receives the same warnings from the kidnappers. Secrets are unveiled slowly and unsavorily, while the drama becomes a disorganized spiral of affective manipulations.

Farhadi keeps on working family themes, but with a voice that lacks articulation. He brings a bit of Almodovar during the colorful party and the dramatic flair of Susanne Bier, but everything is inconsistently pasted with a melodramatic television air. There’s little to differentiate this film from other generic drama-thrillers out there, and even if the images shine bright, they were not enough to make Everybody Knows glittering like gold. To tell the truth, this was more of a pale experience that puts Farhadi under pressure for his next move.

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Julieta (2016)

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Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Country: Spain

After watching the gloomy drama “Julieta”, we come to the conclusion that Pedro Almodovar, perhaps the most emblematic film director of the current Spain, continues very far from the artistry of his early works but fairly ahead of the ridiculousness of "I’m So Excited!", his previous film.

The 20th feature film of Almodovar’s directorial career was inspired by three short stories, “Chance”, “Soon” and “Silence”, by Alice Munro, a Canadian Nobel Prize winner.
Adopting the same strategy of the writer, Almodovar sets the story back and forth in time, relying on Alberto Iglesias’s dismal musical score and well-planned close-ups to extend its dramatic perimeter.

Julieta (Emma Suárez) has almost everything prepared to finally leave Madrid and move to Portugal with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). However, she decides to cancel this longtime planned trip after bumping into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), a childhood friend of her estranged daughter, Antia, who left home when she was 18 to a spiritual retreat and never came back or contacted her again. 
While vacationing in Lake Cuomo, Beatriz saw Antia with her three children and the latter’s reaction wasn’t the best.

Even without an address, Julieta, decides to write a final letter to Antia, where she unravels more about her daughter’s father, Xoan (Daniel Grao), a humble fisherman who had been unfaithful to her with Ava (Inma Cuesta), an artist friend from his hometown.
The story winds back to the moment when a young and bold Julieta (Adriana Ugarte), in her early twenties, meets Xoan on a train and makes love to him in one of the cars. Months later, after a successful first experience as a classic literature teacher, she abdicates from work in order to live near the sea with Xoan, whose wife had recently died. Already pregnant, she was welcomed by Marian (Rossy de Palma), a moody maid who tried to warn her about Xoan’s weaknesses.

Almodovar urges us to immerse ourselves into a complex emotional entanglement that only gave half of what was promised in a first instance. 
The tragedy, cooked with lugubrious tones, failed to reach the depth intended and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth after the credits roll. 

The dazzling cinematography by Jean-Claude Larrieu was the only outstanding feature since Almodovar lacked the ability to explore his own script in a way to escape the conventional. Even with some interesting moments, this is a modest pic from a talented director from whom we expect more and better.

The Bride (2015)

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Directed by Paula Ortiz
Country: Spain / Germany

Paula Ortiz’ sophomore feature, “The Bride”, is a good enough dramatization of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1933 Spanish tragedy “Blood Wedding”.

The screenplay, written by Ms. Ortiz and Javier García, is packed with emotional charge and suffocating atmospheres in a film that exhibits arid landscapes, eroded houses, and a love triangle that ends up in a terrible adversity. 
Despite the mediocre musical score, the final product can be pronounced as artistic due to the beautiful cinematography, efficient camera work, and a well-streamlined editing. However, Ms. Ortiz could have dropped the intense theatrical approach in favor of something a bit more cinematic and even contemporary. Moreover, the two male protagonists, Álex García and Asier Etxeandia, couldn’t match the performances of Inma Cuesta and Luisa Gavasa.

Three childhood friends, a woman and two men, see their lives dangerously standing at the edge of an abyss when two of them decide to marry each other. The bride (Cuesta) and groom (Etxeandia), whose names are never revealed, are apparently happy and exchange promises of eternal love. Yet, the reality is quite more complicated than that, since their friend, Leonardo (García), who’s already married to the bride’s cousin (Leticia Dolera), can’t hide his true love. The bride is also divided and can’t refrain the uncontrollable attraction that is triggered whenever Leonardo is around. 
So, it's no surprise to anybody that the wedding is a big mistake and is condemned to fail.
On her wedding night, Leonardo takes her on horseback to the woods in order to commit the sin that will ruin their lives forever.
The supernatural component is successfully added with the presence of the spirit of an old hag who distributes glass knives so that justice can be done.
With reference to the performances, the groom’s bitter mother (Gavasa) was the one who impressed me most.

Appealing to the senses, “The Bride” conveys fate, guilt, and anguish with relentless fixations but fails to build an impactful crescendo. Curiously, the beginning of the film is much more capable than the ending because something is lost in the middle. Still, this was decent enough to deserve a peek.

Endless Night (2015)

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Directed by Isabel Coixet
Country: Spain / France / Bulgaria

“Nobody Wants the Night”, a Spain/France/Bulgaria co-production, is a bummer of a drama directed by Isabel Coixet from a screenplay by Miguel Barros.  
I consider it one of the worse, if not the worst feature from the Spanish filmmaker whose uneven career comprises solid dramas such as “My Life Without Me”, “The Secret Life of Words”, and “Elegy”, but also other totally dispensable dramatic exercises, cases of “Yesterday Never Ends”, “Maps of the Sounds of Tokyo”, and “Another Me”.
Last year, the tolerable rom-com, “Learning to Drive”, starring the great Patricia Clarkson and the sober Ben Kingsley, seemed to bring Ms. Coixet back to acceptable standards. But unfortunately, “Nobody Wants the Night”, a disastrous blend of soapy drama and futile survival adventure set in 1908, proves the contrary.

The gifted French actress, Juliette Binoche, who did great in last year’s “The Clouds of Sils Maria”, was helpless to give depth to the character of Josephine Peary, the obstinate wife of the Arctic explorer, Robert Peary, who is trying to be the first man to reach the North Pole.
The super confident, Josephine, rejoices while hunting a bear and is very persuasive when she wants something. An insatiable yearning for her husband makes her embark on a perilous journey to join him. In the company of an experienced Irish guide, Bram Trevor (Gabriel Byrne), and a few Arctic indigenous, she hits the snowy and rocky landscapes with tenacity and recklessness when it comes to facing the hardships of the bitter winter.

Even losing her faithful guide in the way, the impulsive Josephine arrives at the shelter where her husband should be, but only finds one of his fellow travelers whose fingers were eaten away by the cold, and Allaka (Rinko Kikuchi), a smiley Eskimo woman who was also eagerly waiting for Robert Peary.
Expecting a severe aggravation of the weather for the following weeks, everyone departs with the exception of Josephine and Allaka who decide to wait for Robert, the man they both unconditionally love.

If the first part was bad, the second was abominable. 
The verbal interaction between the women is often irritating and dull while they keep trying to overcome the cultural barriers that make them apart.
At the time when their lives become threatened, they finally understand there's no other alternative besides stand together and unite forces in order to survive. During this last segment, both sentimentality and artifice take over the scenes until we get to the meager conclusion.
The cinematography, by Jean-Claude Larrieu, is the only positive aspect of a poor adventure-drama whose script is the weakest link.

10,000 Km (2014)

10,000 Km (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Carlos Marques-Marcet
Country: Spain

Movie Review: Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer may have been the only actors in “10,000 Km”, but that reality didn’t undermine the low-budget drama, which is an upfront exercise mounted with earnestness by the debutant director and co-writer, Carlos Marques-Marcet. What seemed to be another inconsequential story of separation that relies on modern technology to survive, ended up evolving into a heartfelt experience where the feelings sprout genuinely intense in the day-to-day of Alex and Sergi, a couple from Barcelona whose love is put to a test when she goes to L.A. for a one-year artistic residency in photography. The challenge of staying apart and still have to make the relationship work, can be followed since ‘Day 1’ when the possibility is considered with mixed feelings amidst their Sunday routines. On one hand they’re happy since it’s an opportunity, taking into account the difficult economic times in Spain, but on the other hand, they know the separation won’t be easy, and a blend of fear and sadness install. The first day without each other – ‘Day 2’, starts enthusiastically with Alex showing her gorgeous house. However, along the way, every day will bring different emotional states and the moods will change accordingly. Sometimes they’re totally in tune with each other: cheerful and optimistic while throwing in witty lines, supportive and understanding, having virtual sex… but other times they’re sulking, arguing, or reconciling from those arguments that mirror their frustrations, the burden of waiting infinitely, and even occasional unjustified jealousy. Some other days are represented through few hasty images that suggest nothing but sleeping, boredom, or anxiety. Having gone through a similar situation with my wife (identically, she came to the US to study photography), I’ve identified myself with so many things here, what ascertains that Mr. Marques-Marcet knows what he’s portraying, crafting this film compellingly through the involving performances from the cohesive pair of actors.

Shrew's Nest (2014)

Shrew's Nest (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Juanfer Andres, Esteban Roel
Country: Spain / France

Movie Review: Executive producer, Alex de la Iglésia, presents a psychological horror film, set in ‘50s Spain, about two unstable sisters with a complicated past and present. The film was passionately directed by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel, two newcomers who also co-wrote with Sofia Cuenca based on an original idea by Emma Tusell, editor of the last Spanish cinematic sensation, “The Magical Girl”. Relying on the extraordinary performances by Nadia Santiago and especially Macarena Gomez, the story feels simultaneously familiar and tonally consistent, if occasionally fluctuating in pace. Montse (Gomez) always played the role of a protective mother regarding her younger sister (Santiago), who she calls ‘la Niña’. Both live alone in a comfortable apartment after the death of their mother and the mysterious disappearance of their father 14 years before, during the war. The latter (Luis Tosar), religiously strict and morally judgmental, often visits the subconscious of Montse, a neurotic dressmaker who never goes out due to suffering from agoraphobia. Besides, Montse is a victim of other strange attacks, acting very aggressive and severely punishing her sister who just turned 18 and meets with a boy right under her window. This fact brings about jealousy and fear of loss in Montse who keeps inflicting guilt and embarrassment in the frightened yet courageous girl. Secluded, petty, and haunted by a traumatic past and an overwhelming awe of God, the older sister gains strong hopes of recovering, besides the drops of morphine that a client brings to her, when she literally kidnaps her neighbor, Carlos (Hugo Silva), after he has asked for help with a bump in his head and a broken leg. Even if not totally fresh or devoid of missteps, “Shrew’s Nest” reserves good surprises for the last 30 minutes, time when the gore images assault you, well programmed to enhance the climax. More morbid than creepy, this is a palpable psychological material whose major faults can be easily forgiven.

Magical Girl (2014)

Magical Girl (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Carlos Vermut
Country: Spain / France

Movie Review: “Magical Girl”, which opens and closes with a mesmeric moment of magic, doesn’t hesitate to astonish the viewers with a few refreshing plot details. The story centers on two strangers, Luis (Luis Bermejo) and Barbara (Barbara Lennie), whose lives converge at some point. Luis is an unemployed former teacher who wants to pamper his 12-year-old daughter, Alicia, a devoted enthusiast of anime series and Japanese pop songs, with the gift she ever dreamt – a unique dress that costs 7000 Euros. The reason for this is that Alicia is dying from leukemia. Since the books he often sells by weight are insufficient to collect the total amount, he sees a golden opportunity to get it by blackmailing a mentally troubled woman called Barbara, with whom he slept right after meeting her in undesirable circumstances. Barbara hides a mysterious past that involves an obsessed professor from her youth, and lives comfortably with her well-established psychiatrist husband. Nevertheless, and since she can’t get an excuse to ask him such a great amount, she resorts to her former employer, Ada, who runs a prostitution business. Barbara is then introduced to a sinister man in a wheelchair who arranges bizarre sexual encounters. She ends up paying Luis, but the game was far from reaching an end. Filmmaker Carlos Vermut embraces drama and thriller with the same spontaneous conviction, in this meticulous tale of revenge(s) that mesmerizes us from the first minute. Even if we have a slight impression that some of the visuals and mood had been borrowed from other movies, we can’t help being dragged by the clever plot, clean appearance, and a disconcertingly intriguing structure. Quietly disturbing, this penetrating neo-noir thriller relies more in a cruel insanity than any kind of magic.

Marshland (2014)

Marshland (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alberto Rodriguez
Country: Spain

Movie Review: In Alberto Rodriguez’s crime thriller “Marshland”, a police investigation is set up in an undesirable little town of the Guadalquivir Marshes, Spain, during the busy harvesting period. The cause was a brutal double homicide of two teen sisters. The year is 1980. Agents Pedro (Raul Arevalo) and Juan (Javier Gutierrez) arrive from Madrid resolved to find the culprits of a crime that is obviously connected with other similar killings of adolescent girls in 77 and 78, in the same month of the year. The conspicuous, overwhelming displacement felt by the agents, was the main reason for them to remain united, especially taking into account their abysmal differences in personality and operation methods. Pedro is honest, direct, mostly correct in his procedures, and a meticulous observer; the kind of guy who thinks he can change the world. In opposition, Juan is sleepless, nervous, violent, and with a controversial past as a former header of Franco’s brigades. Even with precise clues (killer’s blood type and car), the case unlikely would come to a favorable conclusion without the help of some eyewitnesses, a few local smugglers, and an ‘inconvenient’ journalist. Mr. Rodriguez, who co-wrote with Rafael Cobos for the fourth time, revealed enough qualities to make me want to see what’s coming next. Less interested in taking the dangerous path of easy action, all his endeavors were directed to build mystery and set up sinister ambiances. The resolute camera work was firmly accomplished in many of the staggering passages of the film – intense chases, suspense situations, close-ups, little details, or mere landscapes. “Marshland” does better than its competitors (including Hollywood) and deserves to be seen for its compelling performances and well-cooked plot.

Loreak (2014)

Loreak (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga
Country: Spain

Movie Review: The mature Basque drama, “Loreak” (meaning ‘Flowers’), was surprisingly pleasant and warmly rewarding. Following their first successful collaboration five years ago with “For 80 Days”, sturdy filmmakers Jon Graño and Jose Mari Goenaga didn’t let their good reputation deteriorate, and now present us another poignant piece of genuine life. 40-something-year-old, Ane, seems satisfied while working for her company at a construction site, however, her personal life tells us she’s not so happy – the relationship with her husband is getting bitter and during a medical check-up she was told she had reached premature menopause. Once childless, we could feel a crushing depression coming down, but suddenly a baffling occurrence helps her to get over this phase. She starts receiving a big bouquet of flowers from a mysterious sender, on every Thursday. Apparently, the sender is a co-worker, Benat, a crane operator who ends up dying in a car accident. From this moment on, the flowers stopped to arrive, while the necklace Ane had lost, was found in the crane cabin. Like Ane, Benat was also struggling with his personal life since his wife, Lourdes, and widow mother, Tere, didn’t get along so well. Lourdes had a son from another marriage, but it seems the couple wasn’t able to have one of their own, despite the pressure made by the obnoxious Tere. An affair between Ane and Benat was very unlikely. A secret passion? Simply sympathy? The doubt remains, and our only certainty is that the three women’s fates are intriguingly connected. The light, in Javier Aguirre’s exemplary photography, strangely conveys a false serenity among the characters’ inner agitation. “Loreak” is as much thorough as elliptical, comfortably driven by a delicate approach, flawless performances, and a conscious structure.

Beautiful Youth (2014)

Beautiful Youth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: jaime Rosales
Country: Spain / others

Movie Review: “Beautiful Youth” is disappointing, even considering the strong theme about the demoralizing social reality lived in Spain, where unemployment loomed a couple years ago, hampering the youths from building decent lives and leaving no margin for dreams or high hopes. The film, set in Madrid, starts particularly unfocused. There’s a worried mother and their three sons – Natalia, who occasionally steals from stores' beauty sections and decided to have an experience on amateur porn with her boyfriend Carlos (only to win 300 euros); Pedro who’s not doing great in his studies and says ‘I’m fucking sick of this woman’ when talks about his mom; and the little one, Irene who still need extra cares. The father left the house some years ago and only Natalia maintains contact with him. After a while, it becomes clear that Natalia and Carlos, both 20, are the ones to follow in this pessimistic adventure, which was no more than a potentially acceptable idea turned into an unskilled exercise. Natalia gets pregnant and starts looking for a job, however, her wish never materializes. In turn, Carlos, underpaid in occasional construction jobs, plunges into inertia and seems only concerned with video games and obtaining financial compensation from having been stabbed in the neck during a brawl. The whole is weaker than some parts, resulting in an uneven tale that was never really connected. By the end of the film there are some questionable options (photographs, skype) that first mislead us, and then take us to the infuriating conclusion. Filmmaker Jaime Rosales doesn’t seem to be the same who elegantly directed the sensational art-house “Dream and Silence” in 2012. Everything collapsed in “Beautiful Youth” - the camera moves awkwardly and tactless, the photography is unattractive, and the editing, a flop. Budget's fault? Blah!

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014)

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andrea Di Stefano
Country: Spain / France / others

Movie Review: Italian actor Andrea di Stefano makes his directorial debut with “Escobar: Paradise Lost”, a thriller, set in 1991 Medellin, whose title mislead us to assume we are before a biopic about the unmerciful popular Colombian drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar. Instead, the film tells about a Canadian young man, Nick (John Hutchinson), who was having trouble with local thugs when trying to set up a business by the beach, in the company of his older brother, Dylan (Brady Corbet). Everything will become easier when he falls in love with the gracious Maria (Claudia Traisac), Escobar’s niece. Accepted by Escobar (Benicio del Toro) to be part of his clan, he will see the coast clear when those who demanded a payment for his business, were burned alive. A day before giving himself to the authorities in a pact with the Government, Escobar’s first concern is to protect the future of his family by concealing the fortune accumulated with years of narcotrafficking. He reserved one last special operation for the innocent Nick who was assigned to meet and kill a ‘campesino’. However, surprises come up and Nick, in panic, will have to fight for his life. As the story unfolds, it becomes too chewed in aspects it should have been more expeditious. Some good hints of tension not always usurp an annoying cheesiness felt in scenes involving Nick, unveiling superficiality and exaggeration in a story that deserved to be better handled. Di Stefano takes the wrong turn when he had everything to do it right – decent script and respected actors. The formula: ‘make it simple and raw’ would have given him better chances, together with a more astute exploration of the characters. Paradise lost… and a missed opportunity.

Automata (2014)

Automata (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gabe Ibañez
Country: Spain / Bulgaria

Movie Review: Gabe Ibañez’s “Automata” is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller that feels more pretentious than efficient. The story is set in 2044 AD, in a time where atmospheric disturbances, reduction of the population, and technological regression, are compensated with robots that enforce the two protocols responsible for ruling the almost deserted world. Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance claim checker for ROC, the company that makes the robots, embarks in a one-man journey to assure the future of humanity. The chaotic scenarios are not so negative, but the film never transcends itself into something worthy. To tell the truth, we wait and wait for long periods of time, and nothing meaningful really happens, making us enter in a sort of melancholy that is very difficult to get rid of, even during the action scenes. There’s still time for some ludicrous scenes that include a sentimental dance between Vaucan and a robot, or a problematic cop who shows a compulsive ability to shoot robots in the head. Vaucan’s screams of frustration felt dried, and the world depicted in the heavy-handed “Automata” never provided any compassion or sympathy. The presence of Antonio Banderas was also insufficient to boost an unfocused plot, written by the Spanish director Ibañez together with Igor Legarreta and Javier Sánchez Donate, which ended up being an unenthusiastic assembly of small ideas.


Spanish Affair (2013)

Spanish Affair (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Emilio Martinez Lázaro
Country: Spain

Movie Review: “Spanish Affair” is a very Spanish romantic comedy directed by Emilio Martinez Lázaro, taking advantage of the political questions that are in the base of the turmoil lived between Basque country, which seeks independence for several years, and Spain. The story starts in Sevilla where Rafa, a bon vivant who doesn’t know any other place beyond Andaluzia, was being the king of the night by telling some pretty good jokes about Basques. Irony of the destiny, since he meets Amaia, a Basque young woman who seemed bored for celebrating her bachelor party. After one-night stand, Amaia escapes without a word, but Rafa finds an excuse to travel to Basque country, becoming leader of the local separatists, as well as the suitable substitute for Antxon, Amaia’s fiancé who had broken up with her a few days before. Pretending to be Antxon, he will try to convince Amaia’s father, a rough fisherman, that he is a true Basque with eight surnames. Comedy of circumstances with political teasing, “Spanish Affair” is an easygoing film that plays effectively with language. In spite of the good timing of the majority of its gags, the conventional style adopted and predictable outcomes, prevented a greater satisfaction. It worths essentially for its chirpy nature and some inspired moments that revealed a good openness of mind regarding a turbulent internal conflict. The lamentable finale was a pity, but with the huge success in Spain, there’s already a sequel announced for 2015, with the same actors, writers, and director.

Grand Piano (2013)

Grand Piano (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Eugenio Mira
Country: Spain

Movie Review: Spanish thriller “Grand Piano” stars Elijah Wood as Tom Selznick, a talented pianist who returns to concerts after a five-year hiatus due to an almost incontrollable stage fright. Accusing the responsibility of having his fans and media with an eye on him, Tom cannot hide his deepest fear but this time seems decided to cause good impression. He just wasn’t prepared to be threatened with death by an alleged hitman who forbade him to play a single wrong note during the concert. Emma, his famous wife sitting in the audience, becomes another easy target for the madman who communicates with the musician via cell-phone, while he plays the most difficult pieces of his mentor, Gudureaux. Tension is mixed with an unconvincing, humorous tone that never causes the desired effects of involving us in the implausible and forced situations, hopelessly impossible to be taken seriously. Throughout the entire concert, Tom communicates with his persecutor through an earpiece, occasionally stopping to play and leaving the room in order to find the man’s identity and motives. While the band keeps playing, a ridiculous game of cat and mouse is created, and we breathe an unnatural atmosphere that in nothing contributes to elevate its far-fetched plot written by Damien Chazelle (“The Last Exorcism Part II”, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”) whose next directorial feature “Whiplash” is very much awaited. I only found “Grand Piano” slightly entertaining, becoming an ‘out of tune’ piece of cinema within the ‘songbook’ of the genre.

The Artist and the Model (2012)

The Artist and the Model (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Fernando Trueba
Country: Spain / France

Movie Review: Renowned Spanish helmer Fernando Trueba has a gentle style of filmmaking, and that’s noticeable in “The Artist and the Model”. However, this drama shot in an appealing black-and-white, is not at the same level as his big hit from 1993, “La Belle Epoque”, or the absorbing musical animation from four years ago, “Chico & Rita”. If the two films mentioned before were quite passionate in the way they express themselves, this one seems to lack some confidence and the results are lucid but restrained. The story, set in an occupied France in the early 40's, follows a famous aging sculptor whose long-time discouragement vanishes after his wife finds the perfect model for him: a young fugitive girl from Reus, Catalonia. Beautiful, shy, and restive, this girl will create a special bond with the persistent artist, at the same time that she takes actively part in the war, helping Jews to flee to Spain. Despite of this last factor, all was depicted with a relaxed pace and a quietness that dangerously approaches to sleepiness. The few events depicted in the film, like the unexpected visit of an SS officer or the hiding of a wounded soldier, weren’t sufficiently strong to give a shake into monotony and the results nothing have to do with enthrallment. Trueba wrote the plot conjointly with screenwriter/actor Jean-Claude Carrière, and the film was nominated for 13 categories of Goya Awards, including best film, screenplay, actor, actress, cinematography, and director.

Dream and Silence (2012)

Dream and Silence (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jaime Rosales
Country: Spain / France

Movie Review: Fourth feature film by Spanish filmmaker from Barcelona, Jaime Rosales, is an astounding study on family, dreams, and silences that heal. With influences of Robert Bresson and Victor Erice, Rosales presents us magnificent sequential segments drawn by preponderant steady shots, and bold camera movements (like moving in the opposite direction of its characters towards the unknown, or lurking insistently whether from afar or closely). In a contrasted black-and-white, the image sequences seemed to disperse themselves from time to time (following its characters), leaving to the viewers the task of putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Yolanda is a Spanish teacher in France, where she lives with her architect husband, Oriol, and two daughters. A terrible accident in Spain will make irreversible changes in their lives. The way Rosales found to tell such a simple story is simply ingenious and almost surreal. The calmness presented in several details from everyday life and some conversations, don’t let us forget the depressive states of despair and anguish in the case of Yolanda, or the strange and laid-back behavior in the case of Oriol in face of problems. I felt completely immersed in its enigmatic structure, insinuations, and occasionally abrupt silences. “Dream and Silence”, in its elegant and distinctive disposition, shall delight art-house lovers, as well as enthusiasts of unconventional storytelling.

I'm So Excited (2013)

I'm So Excited (2013)
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Country: Spain

Review: Most of filmmakers get better with the age, as a result of experience and maturity gained through many different aspects, but this seems not to be the case of Pedro Almodóvar. His new sexual comedy, “I’m So Excited”, is an uneven and humorless private party, with alcohol and drugs included, on board of a plane to Mexico with serious problems to land safely. Its characters were simply uninteresting and shallow, consisting in the passengers of the first class plus the flight crew composed by a bisexual pilot, a straight co-pilot, and three gay stewards. The jokes, as expected, were all made around the subject of sexuality, but just a couple of them were able to pull out some chuckles. It seems that Almodóvar is self-content in showing us his shabby, flamboyant fantasies, without being aware that he is becoming repetitive, highly predictable, and tacky. Lacking substance or anything palpable, this is probably the worst film in the career of a filmmaker who, a few years ago, had the genius to create “Talk To Her” or “All About My Mother”. In case you are a fan of Antonio Banderas or Penélope Cruz, you can always stick to the first five minutes, in which they appear in just another ridiculous scene. Strictly disapproved!