The 20th Spanish Film Festival has come to Perth once more! Here’s a selection of the films on offer:
May God Save Us
Se7en meets Spain in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s thoughtful, thrilling and disturbing serial killer chiller. Don’t bring your grandmother.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
As the people of Madrid eagerly await the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in the summer of 2011, two detectives – Luis Velarde (Antonio de la Torre), a stuttering, awkward bundle of nerves, and Javier Alfaro (Roberto Álamo), a hothead with a short temper and a violent streak – are on the case of a serial killer with a sick penchant for brutally raping and murdering elderly women. Instructed to keep it quiet and under control, things begin to unravel wildly for the pair as each finds they have more in common with their killer than they’d like to admit, and the game of cat-and-mouse turns deadly.
May God Save Us, the second feature from Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Stockholm) is an ambitious sophomore effort that wants to be many things. From police procedural to intense character study, it succeeds at most of its aspirations. Most successful is its True Detective-like focus on the partners tailing the killer and how the investigation sends their lives into an obsessive downward spiral. Both of these cops are profoundly flawed and capable of dark outbursts. Both de la Torre and Álamo are greatly engaging and share a terrific chemistry.
The twisty, unnerving narrative and shocking depravity on display make this comparable to the thrillers of David Fincher (Se7en springs to mind more than once). The conclusion relies a little too heavily on coincidence to tie everything up neatly, but everything before it is a riveting, entertaining crime epic to rival some of Hollywood’s supreme.
The Distinguished Citizen
A self-righteous Spaniard wanders aimlessly around the Argentinian countryside for 117 minutes… but that’s not the only thing left to wander. You’ll find yourself wondering what on Earth its all about.
Daniel Mantovani (Oscar Martínez) is a world-renowned writer and esteemed scholarly figure. After being awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, he retreats into self-imposed isolation, abject at his own inability to challenge readers now that his work is so celebrated. Like Alexander the Great weeping for no more worlds to conquer, Daniel decides to journey back to the Argentinian backwater village where he grew up, presumably in an attempt to gain perspective and stay humble.
From here, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat‘s dramedy follows a rather familiar fish-out-of-water template. Revered by the simple townsfolk, Daniel finds himself surrounded by eager friends and distant relations who are certain his work is based on their kooky personalities and threadbare lives. The screenplay toys with the idea of the artist and the notion of being a stranger amongst friends, but only scratches the surface. After two hours of following Daniel through numerous speeches and photo ops, I felt like we never truly got to explore his motivations in detail.
Instead the film concerns itself the small-town squabbles and petty jealousies of old flame Irene (Andrea Frigerio) and childhood friend Antonio (Dady Brieva). It certainly doesn’t help that the production design and technical elements struggle to elevate the weak material; drab framing, surroundings and an overall boring visual aesthetic means The Distinguished Citizen is next to indistinguishable from a no-frills TV project, with little cinematic flair or energy brought to the screen.
Life must always go on… and I couldn’t wait for my life to go on once the credits finally rolled on Summer 1993. It’s not my cup of tea, but the centrepiece film of the festival certainly does have a lot of merit.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Carla Simón‘s autobiographical drama provides an understated, yet intimate look into the grieving process through the unique perspective of recently orphaned 6-year-old girl Frida (Laia Artigas). Shipped off to live in the countryside with her Aunt, Uncle and their younger daughter Anna (Paula Robles), Frida gradually comes to terms with her new reality and strives to fit in with her substitute family.
In her feature film debut, Simón succeeds in channeling her life experiences to construct an authentic and sincere portrayal of family dynamics in the wake of tragedy. While there is the occasional burst of charisma in some amusing interactions between Frida and Anna, overall the film falls flat with a distinct lack of conflict. Yes, Frida is struggling to sift through her wild tangle of emotions, but this is not enough to sustain a 97-minute run-time. I found myself growing increasingly restless as seemingly disconnected events in the family’s day to day life simply unfolded at a glacial pace.
Summer 1993 is not a film that seeks to entertain; it’s purely a work of art to be observed and admired if you have the patience to do so. Depending on your taste and your mood, you’ll either appreciate its brilliance, or loathe its very existence.
The Tip of the Iceberg
Corporate greed and violation is at the core of David Cánovas’ latest film, a thriller that distinctly lacks the thrill.
David Cánovas’ The Tip of the Iceberg is a lightweight thriller about the kind of corporate conspiracy that can only exist in the movies. I believe there is a lot of corruption in a lot of big companies out there, but to go to the extremes these characters go to, just to make some extra cash, requires some form of superhuman avarice or sadism.
Maribel Verdú plays Sofia Cuevas, an executive of a multinational conglomerate tasked with investigating the mysterious suicides of three of her company’s high-ranking employees. In an eventless and tiresome string of interviews, she encounters workers who have been pressured and blackmailed into functioning at peak performance – like little hamsters trained not to stop running – and uncovers a dastardly plot by the higher-ups to consistently meet deadlines at the expense of their fatigued colleagues.
It’s all very straight-edged, narrow and bland. Verdú is perhaps the only one who appears to be invested in the corporate crime, but after hours and hours of sitting behind a desk staring holes into her laptop screen, even she runs out of gas before the finish line. Convenient plot threads, chance encounters and neatly tied-up loose ends all make The Tip of the Iceberg more trouble than it’s worth.
The Spanish Film Festival runs in Perth from April 27 to May 17
Images courtesy of Palace Films and The Spanish Film Festival