Category Archives: Victoria Abril

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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Filed under Political/social films, Spain, Victoria Abril

Between Your Legs (1999)

 “What if we’re each other’s solution?”

The steamy Spanish thriller Between Your Legs (Entre Las Piernas) is a tale of adultery, blackmail and murder set against the relationship of two people who meet at a Sex Addicts support group. With Victoria Abril and Javier Bardem as the two sex addicts, sparks fly, but they also fizzle in the depths of a murky plot that leaves some questions unanswered.

between your legsI’ve sometimes wondered if having a number of sex addicts attend a meeting together is advisable, and all the spicy scenarios my over-active imagination conjures up come to pass in this film when sex addict, Miranda (Victoria Abril) meets fellow insatiable sex addict Javier (Javier Bardem). There’s an immediate attraction, although Miranda who’s married to detective Felix (Carmelo Gomez) tries valiantly for a moment or two to brush off Javier’s attentions. But who is she kidding? The next thing we know, Miranda and Javier are writhing in the back seat of a car in a deserted parking lot.

Miranda and Javier are characters whose lives are seeped in sex. Miranda is a telephone operator for a late-night call-in show and most of her calls are about…you’ve guessed it…sex. Javier works for a publishing company, and all the scripts he reads are about…yes, right again…sex. No wonder these two poor buggers are sex addicts. They can’t get away from the subject.

Javier, rather rationally, I thought, decides that it makes perfect sense that he and Miranda should be together. He realizes that they both have needs and desires and decides that they can basically solve each other’s problem. Makes sense to me. But it doesn’t make sense to Miranda’s husband, Felix, who soon sniffs that adultery is afoot. Plus being a detective, it’s a fairly easy matter for him to follow Miranda, trace license plate numbers, etc.

But then to complicate matters, a body is found in the trunk of the car that Miranda and Javier appropriated for their impromptu steamy rendezvous. Felix investigates the case, and soon he has reason to place Javier as the main suspect.

Now this sounds like an interesting plot, but unfortunately other elements that appear fairly early on in the film confuse matters. These include fantasy sequences involving Javier and a mystery woman who drew him into sex addiction, the sensationalistic illicit sex story of the man running the Sex Addicts meeting, and the existence of some sex tapes. There’s a sequence involving Miranda’s dog and a trip to the veterinarian that leads nowhere, and there’s also a minor subplot involving a taxi driver and AIDS. I’m still uncertain why this latter sub plot was included unless it was supposed to represent the ‘safe sex’ part of the equation. Anyway, thanks to all these superfluous scenes and characters, the first half of the film was a bit confusing, while the second half ironed out some (not all) of these plot elements.

The optimistic conclusion counteracted the film’s overall noir mood, and I still had a couple of questions left unanswered when the credits rolled. If anyone out there can tell me what Felix stepped on in the last scene, please leave a comment. Between Your Legs is based on a novel by Joaquin Oristrell and directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira.

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Filed under Film Noir, Spain, Victoria Abril

101 Reykjavik (2000)

 Icelandic tale of layabout’s woes

In the amusing film, 101 Reykjavik Hlynur is a 30-ish male still living at home with his single mum. Hlynur is happily unemployed and would much rather not think about getting a job. He spends his evenings down at the local pub, parties a great deal with his strange friends, and basically slides away from any sort of commitment. Hlynur also has some sexual problems–but this does not discourage a rather determined girl who pursues him in spite of his low interest.

101Hlynur obviously has some serious problems. His life is an existence–a substitution for the real thing. He even expresses a desire to watch fireworks from the television set rather than from his own balcony. Hlynur’s life begins to change when his mum brings home Lola (a Spanish Flamenco teacher) for the Christmas holidays. When Hlynur’s mum leaves, Lola and Hlynur are thrown together, and after a night of heavy drinking, well….one thing leads to another. Unfortunately, Lola is a lesbian–and she’s Hlynur’s mother’s lover. This creates an odd love triangle and a moral dilemma for Hlynur.

The film was really at its rather original best with the character of Hlynur. He is simultaneously interesting, infuriating, and amusing. Some of the scenes at the parties, the annual family Christmas reunion, and in the pub were very witty–and the narration from Hlynur as he describes the flesh market community in the pub is nothing less than brilliant. The originality and sharp wit of these scenes really made me want to read the book the film is based on. Also the cinematography was marvellous–the stark beauty of Iceland was conveyed in its harsh climate and unforgiving landscape. I haven’t seen many films set in Iceland, and just the photography alone made the film worth watching. The climate is part of the culture–the implication is inescapable.

Victoria Abril is one of my favourite actresses, but this was not her best role. In many ways she was simply a caricature of the passionate, free-spirited lesbian, and the character of Lola was rather flat. This was a bit problematic as Lola is the catalyst for change in this film. However, 101 Reykjavik is quite entertaining and a pleasant discovery. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur.

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Filed under Iceland, Victoria Abril

Swindled (2004)

“Money has the power to possess people to the core.”

In the Spanish con film Swindled (AKA Incautos), Ernesto (Ernesto Alterio) starts his adult life as a petty criminal and then moves onto bigger things when he becomes part of a slick con team. In a series of flashbacks, Ernesto tells his story of exactly how and why he learned to never trust anyone. Brought up by the priests of the Blessed Lady of the Abandoned Orphanage, Ernesto learns to con the priests by saintly behaviour, and he also becomes bonded to another tough orphan–‘the Gypsy’ Gitano (Alejandro Casacseca). The two boys become inseparable, and as adults they lead a life of petty crime until Gitano is caught and sent to jail. Ernesto is then absorbed in the world of practiced con artists and becomes the protege of the elderly con man Lefty.

Eventually Ernesto and Lefty become part of a con team with the slick Federico (Federico Luppi) and his swindling, slippery ex-lover Pilar (Victoria Abril)–the wife of a wealthy old man who’s on his deathbed. Pilar dreams up a scheme that will yield millions to the con team, and it’s a “Golden Goose”–a scam with a greedy target who has loads of cash.

Swindled is at its strongest for the first half of the film, and for a while there, it seemed as though Swindled would match that great con film Nine Queens. Swindled is amusing, stylish and slick as it runs through Ernesto’s con artist past, and Ernesto’s flashbacks serve to give the viewer an overview of some standard scams. This is all great fun, but then the film settles down for the con involving Pilar and Federico. The cons con each other back and forth several times, and the plot’s complications only serve up confusion. At this point, the film becomes so confusing, it’s murky–yes, there’s a con, but it’s impossible to decipher who is doing what to whom, and at the end of the film you find yourself sitting there trying to unravel just what was real and what was the con part, and this detracts from the enjoyment. Directed by Miguel Bardem (brother of Javier), the film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Crime, Spain, Victoria Abril