Category Archives: Spain

Luz Casal

High Heels


Luz Casal sings two of my favourite songs from High Heels, an Almodovar film


Luz Casal

Piensa en Mí



 Un año De Amor. (with scenes from the film)

(Sorry about the ads on the videos)

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Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (1993)

“My only family are the animals, and they’re very liberal.”

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (Por Qué Lo Llaman Amor Cuando Quieren Decir Sexo?), a 1993 film from director Manuel Gómez Pereira, slots, somewhat uneasily into the Rom-Com genre–although the film’s setting is not quite the usual backdrop for the boy-meets-girl scenario.

Gloria (Veróica Forqué) has a solid reputation in the porn star world. Perhaps it’s because she loves her job, or perhaps it’s because she’s good at it, but whatever the reasons are, Gloria puts in a number of nightly live sex peep shows with her long-term partner, gay Karim, and together they are known as Carnal Fire. She’s saving money in her refrigerator for her dream of opening her very own “artistic porn” club: Nights of Glory. Gloria’s plans come to a screeching halt when Karim comes down with the mumps and announces that he’ll be unable to work for months.

Karim, however, produces a replacement–the studley young Manu (Jorge Sanz), a compulsive gambler who’s heavily in debt to a couple of thugs and who’s willing to do anything to get the money he needs.

Neither Gloria nor Manu are sure he’s going to be able to perform sex, live and in public, and there are lots of behind-the-scenes gags with the other performers. After a few practice moves, soon it becomes clear that Gloria has a great new partner, and it seems possible that with Manu she’ll be able to save the money she needs. Enter Manu’s well-to-do parents Sole (Rosa Maria Sardá) and Enrique (Fernando Guillén)….

While this is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, there are some very funny moments–especially so in Gloria and Manu’s live performances. Gloria provides fantasy settings for her audience–and so we see some funny shots of a half-naked fireman with a hose, a leather-clad biker dude, and a half-dressed Roman. Manu is initially very awkward and wants to apply logic to Gloria’s fantasy scenarios while she claims she can no longer have sex “unless there’s applause at the end.” My favourite scene takes place in the TV studio with Gloria and Manu hired as S&M performers. This scene captures Gloria’s naivete as she gushes over her silver wig, and black leather S&M wear, saying how she loves Nazi clothing.

As a fan of the delightful Verónica Forqué, I had to watch this film, and she’s cast perfectly in the role of Gloria. To Gloria, who is very comfortable in her own skin, sex is natural and nothing to be ashamed of, and she seems happy to share her sexual experiences with the heavy-breathers in the peep-show cubicles. Gloria is a perfectly created character–in spite of the fact that she’s a major porn star, she exudes innocence, and even though she’s paid to perform sex, she’s ultimately playful and doesn’t see sex as dirty. Only Forqué could play a naive porn star with such infinite finesse.

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? is also about the role of fantasy in our lives. Just as Manu and Gloria provide a number of fantasies for their audience, they are also ultimately swept up in Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a tight-knit nuclear family, complete with respectable jobs and a grandchild. Gloria, who is a kind, very natural people-pleaser, has no problem moving from pleasing the peep-show crowd to indulging Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a happy family. The question is: how long can it last?

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex?, a very typically post-Franco sexually frank Spanish film which should attract fans of Almodovar, is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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Box 507 (2002)

In the Spanish crime film Box 507 (La Caja 507) Maria (Dafne Fernandez), the only child of bank manager Modesto Pardo (Antonio Resines) and his wife  Angela (Miriam Montilla) was just 16 years old when she died in a horrible fire. It’s now seven years later, and Pardo and his wife are clearly damaged by their loss. Bad luck strikes once again when Pardo’s bank is robbed by a band of criminals who hold Pardo’s wife hostage in order to ensure his cooperation. The bank robbers empty out the vault, and when Pardo–who’s been drugged and duct-taped–wakes up, he finds himself in the box surrounded by the scattered contents of looted bank safe deposit boxes.

As Pardo waits to be rescued, he happens to catch sight of a discarded stack of papers which hold details indicating that his daughter’s death may not have been an accident after all.

The police step into the bank robbery, and while a certain amount of suspicion falls onto Pardo, he’s mainly considered an innocent pawn. Curiously, Pardo doesn’t hand over the papers–the contents of Box 507 to the police, and at this point, the film segues into the investigation of yet another crime–what exactly happened to Maria Pardo.

Meanwhile the owner of the box’s contents, Rafael (Jose Coronado) and his live-in punching bag, vodka-soaked ex-bar dancer Monica (Goya Toledo) come to the wrong conclusion that the bank robbers have stolen the papers they hid at the bank for safe-keeping. Rafael is a nasty piece of work, but then everything is relative, and even Rafael trembles in his psychotic mafiosa’s boss’s presence.

The film very competently juggles two parallel plot threads–there’s Pardo, the man who was initially a patsy who is emboldened by bleak circumstance and revenge to hunt down his daughter’s killers, and Rafael, who erroneously goes after the bank robbers for his missing papers. Inevitably (but not predictably) the two men–Pardo and Rafael are on an explosive collision course.

The plot capitalizes on the various levels of power wielded by the characters to introduce the idea of various levels of evil. While some characters obviously are sadistic and enjoy enacting revenge in hideous ways (creative kills but no close-ups), other characters are content with making business deals with the understanding that everyone has a price. The film (happily) has no high-tech gymnastics, and instead this is a revenge tale of an ordinary man who sets out to get even with the people who ruined his life.

From director Enrique Urbizu, Box 507 was filmed in the Costa Del Sol.

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El Lobo (2004)

“Even in hell you need friends.”

The Spanish film El Lobo is set during the last day’s of Franco’s dictatorship and is based on the tel loborue story of Mikel Lejarza’s infiltration of the ETA between 1973-1975. The story begins with married Basque construction worker, Txema (Eduardo Noriega). While he’s sympathetic to the ETA–the Basque Nationalist and Separatist movement, he’s opposed to the use of violence. Txema’s revolutionary ethics are soon put to the test.

One night, a band of ETA members arrive at his house and ask for shelter. Txema’s wife, who’s opposed to his ETA involvement is hustled out of the way, and Txema allows them to stay. The ETA members are there to kill a man identified as a collaborator. Txema is secretly horrified by the news and even tries a half-hearted attempt to warn the target. But he doesn’t go through with the warning, the target is killed and Txema is subsequently rounded up by police.  

Initially beaten and interrogated, the police sense that Txema isn’t a hard-boiled revolutionary and that he can be turned into an informer. Using a few threats, Txema becomes the police agent El Lobo with the task of infiltrating the ETA and bringing about the arrest of its leaders. He’s their “Trojan Horse.”

Txema soon becomes romantically involved by female ETA member Amaia (Melanie Douty) whose sexual habits smack of the mentality of a revolutionary groupie. The relationship blurs the already vague lines of demarcation for Txema. During this difficult period for the ETA, Txema is assigned to a commando and is often required to locate safe houses for ETA members. While Txema soon comes to believe that he is one of the good guys, the situation is complicated by the behind the scenes politics of who is going to get the credit for nailing the ETA, and while some members of the secret service see El Lobo as a disposable piece of rubbish–others do not. Txema doesn’t realise that he’s a tool for political ambitions.

El Lobo is excellent in its portrayals of the characters and the complexities of the situation, and a very nervous Txema finds himself caught up in internal squabbles within the ETA. With Franco fading, some of the ETA want to abandon the armed struggle and negotiate with the upcoming new government. Other revolutionaries stay firmly on track with the old ideals of a separatist Basque state. Locked in the ETA’s strict hierarchal system and caught between suspicious ETA members, the ethical divide over the political and armed struggle factions of the ETA, and ruthless secret service agents, by the time the story is over, El Lobo is a convoluted mess of trashed beliefs and ideals.

Apart from being a good story, the film raises questions regarding revolutionary ethics and the use of violence.  And if violence is used, is it inevitable that the most violent man becomes the leader? The film also illustrates the argument that the fascist state needs domestic terrorists to further its political agenda. Violence committed by terrorists creates the perfect atmosphere in which governments can implement and extend further a Strategy of Tension–thereby manipulating and controlling the population who passively accept stringent legislation and increased surveillance. From director Miguel Courtois.

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Extasis (1996)

“Love and Need, I get them confused sometimes, don’t you?”

I always enjoy watching Javier Bardem on screen. Whether he’s a robotic psycho No Country For Old Men or the beleaguered telephone sex operator in Mouth to Mouth, he’s always interesting. Perhaps it’s because he looks brutish but really isn’t or perhaps it’s because he was an Almodovar star. No matter.

When I saw Extasis (aka Ecstasy)–an early Bardem film from director Mariano Barroso on netflix, well I knew I had to watch it. The fact that it also stars veteran Argentinean star Frederico Luppi made Extasis an even more attractive proposition. extasis

The film concerns three young friends: Ona (Leire Berrocal), Max (Daniel Guzman) and Rober (Javier Bardem). The three have a wildly impractical idea of opening a bar on the beach, and of course, the only thing inhibiting their plans for the Good Life is the lack of money. The three friends decide to solve this little problem by stealing from their families. Ona helps hold up her family’s shop, and Rober plans to rob an uncle, but Max is estranged from his wealthy play-director father, Daniel (Frederico Luppi).

A chain of events–which I am not going to detail–leads Rober to impersonate Max and then approach Daniel as his long-lost father.

Now the thing is that Daniel is phenomenally wealthy. I don’t mean just well-off, he’s rolling in dough. His home is loaded with antiques and valuables, but it goes beyond that. Daniel is also a celebrity, bedding a much younger actress, Lola (Silvia Bunt), and the star guest at swanky parties. Rober, posing as Max, discovers that being the son of a famous man opens doors to a life he never thought possible. There’s one scene when Daniel takes Rober to the jewelers and tells him to pick out anything he wants. Rober’s face lights up, and he stares at the window before selecting a watch. Rober looks like a kid at Xmas, and that means Daniel must be Santa. Once Rober is ensconced in the sumptuous home of his ‘father’ Daniel, he takes to the good life with gusto, and meanwhile Daniel, enjoying his son’s more unpleasant characteristics,  thinks his hunky new son is a chip off the old block. Which direction will Rober’s loyalties ultimately take? Such wealth and such a glittering life would be a seductive proposition for anyone. The question is: will Rober be seduced?

Extasis starts as a crime caper film but then very quickly morphs into a much more interesting film. While Ona and Max are prepared to rob their families to get the bankroll for their fantasy bar, Rober’s parents are noticeably absent. All we see is an uncle. Robbing the families has a practical goal (getting money), but it goes deeper than that. By robbing their families, Ona, and Max are declaring their loyalties to each other while they sever their blood ties. But what of Rober? He apparently doesn’t have parents to betray. Does this lack of immediate family make him more vulnerable to a generous new daddy?

Extasis for about 90% of the film is excellent drama, but the plot takes a dive once Max appears back on the scene. The ending could have taken so many directions, and unfortunately the script takes the worst direction, the one I had the hardest time believing. I had already had to ask myself if Daniel, who isn’t a particularly nice person, would have accepted an adult son (the real one or the pretend one) so easily. Would Daniel take on a son he’s ignored into his life? Well I accepted that Daniel does invite Rober into his life, but then the film strains credibility with the silly direction the plot takes towards the end of the film. Daniel is not an idiot, and there are times when he seems to be playing a double game, but the film unfortunately doesn’t explore this thread and takes the silly way out. Visually, the film includes some gorgeous scenes–in particular, there’s one scene at night with a car driving and the street lights are reflected in the rain. Gorgeous shot.

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Filed under Javier Bardem, Spain

Dark Blue Almost Black (2006)

 “I’m a love addict.”

Dark Blue Almost Black is an impressive directorial debut from Spanish director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo. The ambitious plot involves a number of characters who are all trapped for various reasons in lives they didn’t choose.

dark-blue-almost-blackThe film begins with Jorge (Quim Gutierrez) setting fire to a trashcan in a demonstrative denial of his father’s wish that Jorge become a janitor. Ironically, this incident begins a chain of events that basically ensures that Jorge becomes just the thing he so fervently wanted to avoid. The film then skips ahead several years, and there’s Jorge … the janitor of his building. But on top of working a job he finds boring and demeaning, Jorge now is also the caretaker for his father, Andres (Hector Colome) who’s in a wheelchair and brain damaged. While it’s obvious that Jorge isn’t happy, he takes care of his father with the same dogged determination he applies to his job as a janitor.

With a great deal of drive and desire to get out of the rut he finds himself in, Jorge has managed to get a BA in Business Administration. But so far, his diploma has got him nowhere. While Jorge is trapped by circumstance and duty, Jorge’s brother Antonio (Antonio de la Torre) is literally locked up in prison. He attends a theater workshop for prisoners where he meets Paula (Marta Etura). They strike up a relationship based on mutual need, and Antonio is well aware that Paula is the type of girl he wouldn’t stand a chance with on the outside.

Other characters include Jorge’s childhood friend Israel (Raul Arevalo). Nicknamed Sean for his likeness to Sean Penn, Israel and Jorge hang out on the apartment building’s rooftop and enjoy a quiet relationship based on regret and longing. Israel, however, discovers some unpleasant truths about his parents’ relationship, and this discovery sparks a chain of illuminating events.

Also in Jorge’s life is his childhood sweetheart Natalia (Eva Pallares)–a girl who lives in the same apartment building and who has just returned from an internship in Germany. Their relationship is similar to Antonio’s relationship with Paula, for Jorge has a sneaking suspicious that Natalia is too good for him, and the giant chip on his shoulder doesn’t help.

There’s a lot going on in this film, but the plot never loses control of the storyline (also written by the director). All of the characters seem to try to break free of their chains–emotional, financial, and sexual–but some of characters’ attempts to gain freedom result in more problems and painful choices. But here’s the crucial thing–while Jorge may make a choice that’s questionable, it’s still a choice, and that’s what matters.

Ultimately this is a bittersweet tale that deals with compromise and adjusting dreams to painful reality. Arevalo rather cleverly engages the viewer in dreams and compromises too–this is achieved in several ways through our expectations of the characters. Take Antonio, for example, when he’s released from prison and moves home, I found myself saying, “ha! The perfect solution. He can start helping take care of the dad and then Jorge can go off and have a career….” By placing that possibility in front of the viewer, the film creates exactly the sorts of wishful scenarios in our heads faced by our characters, and just like our characters, we have to deal with–and adjust to–the realities of life.

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El Lute I and II (1987 & 1988)

 Brutality, crime & poverty

The Spanish films El Lute I and II from director Vicente Aranda examine the life and times of Eleuterio Sanchez (Imanol Arias). Sanchez–a Spanish gypsy grows up in Franco’s Spain, and he’s already a young man traveling with his family when the film opens. The family live in the close quarters of a tatty caravan, and they are used to being constantly harassed by the police. The first scene establishes the dour tone of the film. Sanchez and his family are huddled around a campfire on the outskirts of town eating a meal. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s mother is inside the caravan dying. A couple of Spanish policemen arrive and demand that the gypsies leave–it doesn’t matter if they want to finish their meal, or if there’s a woman dying. The gypsies are treated with deliberate cruelty until they shuffle off.

el-luteSanchez meets a young woman, Chelo (Victoria Abril) at a gypsy encampment. Soon she is pregnant, and they try to scrape a living together. They end up in a squalid gypsy camp/ghetto with their small child. Again, they are beaten and harassed by police, and Sanchez finds himself with a jail sentence.

When Sanchez or ‘El Lute’ is released, he joins Chelo and their child in a squatter city that is composed of huts, but even putting a hut on some dump requires a bribe, and when Chelo and El Lute don’t pay it, they’re forced off the land. And this is where El Lute’s life takes a turn; he befriends a couple of men who persuade him to move near them, and El Lute embarks on a life of crime.

El Lute was a real person, and while the film is ostensibly about him, it’s impossible to avoid the greater social criticism of the impossible situation that surrounds him. Life is depicted as extremely harsh for the poor. This is Franco’s Spain of the 1960s, and yet at many points–thanks to the poverty and conditions endured by these people, it could be the nineteenth century. Both El Lute and Chelo are illiterate and incapable under the social structure from doing any more than just scraping a living and maintaining fringe-dweller status, at best. Somehow the film doesn’t milk the viewer for sympathy–perhaps this is due to the fact that in spite of raising our sympathies, El Lute remains not particularly likeable.

El Lute: Camina O Rievienta is the first film. Other titles are: Run For Your Life, Forge and or Die. The second film is Lute II: Manana Sere Libre. The early criminal career of El Lute is explored in the first film, and the second film continues El Lute’s story and his growing folkhero status for his legendary escapes and as an example of  a man who refused to bow to Franco. The films are in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Una Pasion Singular (2003)

“My patriotism is for the human race.”

Based on the true story of Blas Infante, the Spanish film Una Pasion Singular explores the life of the man known as “the father of Andalucia.” The film begins with the arrest of the upper class, middle aged, Blas Infante (Daniel Freire) and his subsequent imprisonment during the Spanish Civil War. As Infante’s wife Angustias (Marisol Membrillo) struggles with the authorities to get her husband freed, flashbacks depict their meeting and early courtship. Infante and his wife are depicted as individuals with vastly opposed value systems. Infante is devoted to the notion of a separate, autonomous Andulucia, and agrarian reform that includes “returning the land to the peasants” but Angustias, the daughter of wealthy elites, is used to a life of privilege. Infante courts and marries Angustias and they both secretly hold the idea that they can ‘change’ the ethics of the other if given time and proximity of marriage.

Through flashbacks, the film shows Infante, who designed the Andulucian flag and wrote the national song, at various meetings organizing political strategy. Other scenes depict Infante offering his legal services to the disenfranchised peasants at no charge. These scenes of political, and social involvement are contrasted with scenes of conflict with Angustias. She was born to a privileged life, and she fails to understand why life shouldn’t continue on in the same manner. Disagreements about money, and Infante’s devotion to the cause lead to bitter arguments.

The scenes involving Infante’s fate at the hand of Franco’s brutal system of repression are very well done. The film does an excellent job of depicting the arbitrary cold brutality of the system–men taken out of the jail by night and shot, men taken on journeys by guards from which they never return. One of the most powerful scenes occurs when Infante is taken to a makeshift prison. The door opens and as Infante’s sight adjusts to the dim light, the room is seen to hold hundreds of men in various attitudes of despair as they await their fate. In this hideous makeshift facility, there are no trials, and there is no justice. Guards arrive periodically to take the despondent men away to their doom.

The contrasting flashback scenes of Infante’s relationship with his wife are not as interesting, and they tend to distract from the much more interesting story of Infante’s social and political beliefs. If, however, you are interested in the Spanish Civil War, or the tyranny unleashed in Franco’s Spain, then Una Pasion Singular is worth catching. Directed by Antonio Gonzalo, the film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Silencio Roto (2001)

“Strangers fight for a short time–families for a lifetime.”

The Spanish film, Silencio Roto begins in 1944 when Lucia (Lucia Jimenez) arrives in a remote mountainous village. Lucia left the village as a child, and she’s returning to work in her aunt and uncle’s bar. Franco now rules Spain, but the village is a hotbed of activity by the Maquis–Republican guerillas in the mountains who continue to fight after the collapse of the Spanish Civil War.

Soldiers garrisoned at the village maintain a tight atmosphere of fear over the residents. Soldiers publicly humiliate villagers, and relatives of known guerillas are ordered to the garrison for sessions of questioning and torture. In spite of the fact that the villagers, are in many ways kept hostage by the army presence, some of them still find time to aid the rebels. Lucia forms a relationship with the young blacksmith, Manuel (Juan Diego Botto) until he too is forced to take to the mountains and hide out with the guerillas.

As rebel activity increases, reprisals against the villagers occur in the form of crackdowns and punishments. With informers everywhere, it soon becomes impossible for anyone to remain neutral, and Lucia’s involvement with the guerillas becomes increasingly dangerous.

Silencio Roto is highly romantic–and the fate of these star-crossed lovers–Lucia and Manuel is set against the national discord in Spain. The film illustrates that the Spanish Civil War–although conveniently forgotten by the rest of the world–still raged in parts of Spain long after the end of WWII. The film examines the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and the point is made that it just wasn’t possible to lay down one’s arms and return home. The length of the conflict ensured the involvement of several generations of family members, and this idea is well conveyed in this sad, and yet beautiful film. From the Basque director Montxo Armendaria, the film is in Spanish with English subtitles, and it joins the growing ranks of Spanish films that are now announce and examine the atrocities of Franco’s Spain.

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Libertarias (1996)

 “No Gods-No Masters.”

The Spanish film Libertarias examines the Spanish Civil War though the fate of the Free Women (Mujeres Libres) of Spain. During the Spanish Civil War over 30,000 female anarchists were Mujeres Libres, and many fought and died for the revolution. The action begins in July 1936. Anarchists overrun Barcelona, and in the process, a Catholic nun, Maria (Ariadna Gil) leaves the convent with orders from the mother superior to return home. Maria takes shelter in a brothel, but this hiding place is short lived when female CNT anarchists arrive and liberate the prostitutes announcing that they no longer have to submit to the “sexual voracity of strangers.”

libertariasSome of the prostitutes join forces with the anarchists, and Maria–who isn’t adjusting well to being on the outside of the convent walls–goes along. To fiery anarchist Pilar (Ana Belen), Maria is a “victim of the clergy”, and she takes Maria along with the group. While the women join Durruti’s Column of over 3,000-armed anarchists ready to spread the revolution to the rest of Spain, they also clearly maintain their autonomy. Initially the women fight with male anarchists, but when Buenaventura Durruti (Hector Colome) decides that the town of Zaragoza is not defensible, the women stay to fight on the front lines.

The female fighters are a motley crew, but they aren’t afraid to fight and are willing to die for their cause. With the exception of Maria, the women are peasants, and they’ve all suffered experiences that ensure their dedication to the revolution. The female anarchists are also boldly sexually liberated, and again this is another issue Maria cannot understand or accept. But as misfortunes come their way, and the women decide to stick together–no matter what–Maria finds herself morally aligned with the cause. At the same time, she continues to seek out a patriarchal authority figure in an ex-priest-turned-freedom-fighter.

While the women march to war, it’s obvious that they really don’t grasp what’s in store for them. One scene depicts them playfully tossing a pumpkin around until they receive a harsh reminder of their surroundings. The film’s brutal, searing conclusion allows for no sentimentality, and by its very harshness, somehow the ending pulls the entire film into sobering perspective. From director Vicente Aranda, Libertarias is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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