Recommendations & Events

Recommendations

‘The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films directed by Women’, Sight & Sound October 2015

Really pleased to be part of this ground-breaking feature on the films that time forgot made by key women filmmakers.  My choice was El camino/The Way, a sly critique of small-town life under Francomade in 1963 by actress-novelist-critic-director-producer Ana Mariscal. For further details, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/women-on-film

Marshland (dir. Alberto Rodríguez, Spain 2014; released in the UK by Altitude Film Entertainment)

Southern Gothic Spanish-style in a gripping detective thriller set in the slough of the country’s post-Franco ‘Forgetting’. Read my Film of the Month review in Sight & Sound (September 2015), available at: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/reviews-recommendations/film-week-marshland

The Second Mother (dir. Anna Muylaert, Brazil 2015; released in the UK by Soda Pictures)

A whole series of certainties are thrown on their head in this witty, funny comedy drama that uses a cuckoo in the nest narrative to explore class politics in contemporary Brazil. My review of the film is featured in Sight & Sound (September 2015).

Catalan Avant-Garde at the ICA, 28 Feb. – 18 Dec. 2015

There are so many great things happening in Catalan cinema at the moment – daring documentaries, formally inventive features, imaginative dramas. It’s particularly welcome to see the ICA’s Catalan Avant-Garde season which brings together a real variety of work – not all of it necessarily avant-garde in the formal understanding of the term.  The season kicks off with Sobre la Marxa (The Creator of the Jungle) which we featured as part of the 2014 London Film Festival. It’s a superb creative documentary about creative endeavour and boasts some extraordinary Tarzan footage that has to be seen to be believed! Other highlights include Neus Ballus’s exquisite La Plaga (The Plague), screening on 27 October, which I highlighted as one of the best films of 2013 in Sight & Sound, and Mar Coll’s Tots volem el millor per a ella (We all want what’s best for her), screening on 26 June. For further details, see https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/seasons/catalan-avant-garde

Saturday Review 20 September 2014

I was one of Tom Sutcliffe’s guests with writer Rosie Boycott and journalist Simon Jenkins reviewing the week’s cultural highlights. While I’m always sceptical of terms like ‘master’, I especially adored the Constable: The Making of a Master exhibition at the V&A (running until 11 January 2015). It was a real pleasure to be able to comment on five strong items this week. To listen to the show, go to: www.bbc.co.uk

Wakolda (dir. Lucia Puenzo, Argentina-France-Spain-Norway-USA 2013)

Novelist Lucía Puenzo has made a name for herself with films that have sought to probe aspects of Argentine reality that often remain hidden or under wraps. XXY, her directorial debut in 2007, examined the coming of age of a hermaphrodite whose parents struggle to protect her from social ostracism and ridicule. Two years later The Fish Child (adapted from her 2004 novel) exposed the tensions within upper-middle class Argentine society through the prisms of a lesbian teen romance realised across racial and cultural divides. For her third feature Puenzo turns once more to her own fiction, reworking her own 2011 novel, based on Nazi medic Josef Mengele’s time in remote Patagonia, for the screen. Wakolda is a genuinely unnerving film rooted in a fantastic central performance from Spanish actor Alex Brendemühl as the charming and dangerous Mengele. Puenzo delivers an expert fusion of coming-of-age drama about the construction of self and tense, timely thriller about complicity, guilt and denial. To read my extended review of Wakolda in September 2014’s issue of Sight & Sound, see www.bfi.org.uk

Favourite documentaries of all time

When Sight & Sound asked me to provide a list of my favourite documentaries of all time, here’s the list I provided.

  • Land without Bread (Luis Buñuel, 1933)
  • Ocaña, an Intermittent Portrait (Ventura Pons, 1978)
  • Work in Progress (José Luis Guerín, 2001)
  • Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934)
  • Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
  • The Times of Harvey Milk (Robert Epstein, 1984)
  • F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1975)
  • Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)
  • Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955)

Reading the contributions of over 300 critics and filmmakers to the poll, I realised that I had neglected to mention one of my favourite films of the past decade, Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light. So this is my bonus choice, a beautiful reflection on how to think through the unexplainable phenomena of our times.

For a discussion of my selection, see the September 2014 issue of Sight & Sound, or the full online poll, available here.

Gloria (dir. Sebastián Leilo 2013;
released in the UK by Network).

Gloria was my film of 2013. A witty, perceptive portrait of a fifty-something divorcee looking for love in Santiago’s middle-aged singles scene, the film manages to fuse an unconventional love story with a wider contemplation of family dynamics in a post-dictatorship society where politics shapes both the characters’ public and the private actions. Grounded in a memorable central performance by Paulina García and boasting an impressive score where Bach jostles with Umberto Tozzi, Gloria is a film about our aspirations and dreams as well as the mundane activities that ground our day-to-day behaviour. It’s refreshing to see a film that isn’t afraid to portray female sexuality and self-agency in bold terms. Gloria is an icon for our times – a fun-loving, generous, kind-hearted protagonist who simply refuses to give up on life.
Gloria was released on DVD on 10th February 2014. To read my extended review of Gloria in November 2013’s issue of Sight & Sound, see www.bfi.org.uk .

I’m So Excited! (dir. Pedro Almodóvar 2013; released in the UK by Pathé)

I’m So Excited! marks a veritable change of direction for Pedro Almodóvar after the gothic sci-fi horror of The Skin I Live In.  The film is set almost entirely in the bubble of a plane suspended up in the air but it is anything but escapist entertainment. It merges screwball comedy with nods to Berlanga’s acerbic films of the 1950s, but it is also a feature grounded in Spain’s social actualities. So while there is a nostalgia for the early 1980s in the film, it is a resolutely contemporary film with a feisty vein of caustic political humour. There’s a longer feature article on the film by Maria Delgado in the May 2013 issue of Sight & Sound. The DVD, released by Pathé on 26 August 2013 boasts (among other things) a Making Of, a Photo Gallery and a short on the crafting (and dismantling) of the Península aircraft on which the passengers are trapped.

Films of 2013

When Sight & Sound asked me to list my favourite films of 2013, this is what I offered. There are other works I might have included: the Coen Brothers Inside Llewyn Davies, Steve McQueen’s unflinching 12 Years a Slave or Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, but here are the five I opted for with some of the reasoning behind the decisions. Published in the January 2014 edition of Sight & Sound; see http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/polls-surveys/annual-round-ups/best-films-2013

  • Gloria dir. Sebastián Lelio (Chile-Spain 2013)
  • Story of My Death dir. Albert Serra (Spain-France 2013)
  • Wounded/La herida dir. Fernando Franco (Spain 2013)
  • The Plague/La plaga dir. Neus Ballús (Spain 2013)
  • Nebraska dir. Alexander Payne (USA 2013)

I adored Gloria from the very first moment I saw it – how exhilarating to see the experiences of a character so often relegated to a supporting role here placed defiantly centre stage. I loved its playful sense of fun, its energetic soundtrack, its brave and beautiful central performance. I have seen it four times now and each time it has me dancing my way out of the cinema.  Albert Serra is one of contemporary cinema’s real mavericks and Story of My Death is quite unlike anything else I saw this year: embodying philosophical ideas in a layered filmic language that left me breathless with admiration. Wounded and The Plague were my two favourite debuts of the year: the former a poignant tale of a woman on the edge directed by the editor of Blancanieves; the latter a creative documentary of real compassion showing a series of characters coping with the consequences of Spain’s recession. Nebraska may have a deceptively simple storyline but it’s one of those perceptive, intelligent comedies underpinned by remarkable ensemble performances that serve as a reminder of the absurd things that bind families together.

Further highlights of 2013

Talking to Almodóvar about life in the hedonistic 1980s of movida Madrid during the UK premiere of I’m So Excited!; observing Ventura Pons at work finalising the post-production of Ignasi M; interviewing Javier Cámara while he talked in French about the challenges of performing in English and gushed in perfect English about the acting of Benedict Cumberbatch; the delight of watching from the back of a packed cinema during the LFF as small children talked back to the screen in the closing moments of Campanella’s smart take on the football’s corporatisation, Foosball — a reminder of cinema’s enduring capacity to animate, enthuse and ignite the imagination.

Guillem Balague, Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning (Orion Books 2012)

Guillem Balague produced the compelling A Season on the Brink, a study of Rafa Benitez’s Champion League winning first season at Liverpool in 2005. Now he turns his attention to Barcelona’s mercurial former manager Pep Guardiola. Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning is a behind the scenes study of Guardiola’s career. It looks at what makes Guardiola tick, his strategies and the system of play he introduced at Barcelona, his obsession with order and discipline, his attention to diet and the move to the Joan Gimper training ground. In the UK we’re used to managers being thrown out of their jobs by results-driven club chairmen — Alex Ferguson a notable exception to this rule — so it seems remarkable in many ways that Guardiola chose to walk while Barcelona remained such a dominant force in European football. Balague probes the reasons for this, looks at the roots of his approach to football (and the changes he implemented while coaching the B team) and his ‘people skills’. If you love the beautiful game as much as I do then you’ll find this a fascinating read. Like Mike Brearley’s The Art of Captaincy, this is a book about the politics and execution of leadership in pressured circumstances.

In the House (dir. François Ozon, 2012; released in the UK by Momentum Pictures)

On DVD release from 22 July 2013, this adaptation of Juan Mayorga’s The Boy in the Back Row, relocated from Spain to France, offers a brilliantly wry reflection on the relationship between truth and lies. An adolescent student, Claude  (Ernst Umhauer) writes of his friendship with a school friend, Rafa (Bastien Ughetto) and this friend’s wealthy family. His teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), begins to see himself as the boy’s mentor but gradually becomes implicated in the student’s narratives to the disdain of his cool English gallery curator wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). This is a film about game play, the role and responsibilities of authorship and the limits of realism. Ozon crafts a smart, stylish film which comments on contemporary obsessions with reality television, soap opera and confessional narratives and finds pleasure in the multifarious ways in which stories are told.

 

Events

2015 London Spanish Film Festival, 21-30 September 2015

Now in its 11th year, the festival presents a series of UK and London premieres this year. My favourites include Carlos Vermut’s unsettling Magical Girl (2014 San Sebastián winner), Paco Leon’s eccentric comedy Carmina y Amén (2015), Gabriel Velázquez’s study of teenage agency and angst Artico (2014) and Leticia Dolera’s screwball romantic comedy, Requisitos para ser una persona normal/Requirements to be a Normal Person (2015). On Sunday 27 September, at 8pm, I’ll be interviewing Isabel Coixet about her extensive career working across English- and Spanish-language cinema. The interview will be followed by a special screening of her 2014 film, Learning to Drive, a tale of heartbreak, friendship and female agency rooted in a terrific central performance by Patricia Clarkson. For further details, see http://www.londonspanishfilmfestival.com/#

Oresteia, Trafalgar Studios 21 September -7 November 2015.

Time Out called it one of the best productions of the year ‘Greek tragedy filtered through The Sopranos, enriched with visual and verbal references to House of Cards, Macbeth and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East’. Robert Icke’s gut-wrenching staging of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, transfers from the Almeida for a limited run at the Trafalgar Studios. It is a telling, urgent, tale for our time and I’ll be discussing the production with director Robert Icke on Wednesday 30 September at 6.30pm at the Trafalgar Studios. For further details, see http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/trafalgar-studios/

BFI London Film Festival 7-18 October 2015

This year’s BFI London Film Festival includes over 20 Spanish and Portuguese-language films. These include: Pablo Larraín’s El club/The Club (Chile 2015), Federico Veiroj’s El apóstata/The Apostate (Spain-France-Uruguay 2015), Hèctor Hernández Vicens’s El cadaver de Anna Fritz/The Corpse of Anna Fritz (Spain 2015), Gust Van den Berghe’s Lucifer (Belgium 2014), Eugenio Canevari’s Paula (Argentina-Spain 2015), Santiago Mitre’s La patota/Paulina (Argentina-Brazil-France 2015), Sergio Castro San Martín’s La mujer de barro/The Mudwoman (Chile-Argentina 2015), Paz Fábrega’s Viaje (Costa Rica 2015), Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás’s La mujer de los perros/Dog Lady (Argentina 2015), Fernando León de Aranoa’s A Perfect Day (Spain 2015), Rodrigo Plá’s Un monstruo de mil cabezas/A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Mexico 2015), Dani de la Torre’s El desconocido/Retribution (Spain 2015), Jonás Trueba’s Los exiliados románticos/The Romantic Exiles (Spain 2015), Gabriel Mascaro’s Boi neon/Neon Bull (Brazil-Uruguay-Netherlands 2015), Ciro Guerra’s El abrazo de la serpiente/Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia-Argentina-Venezuela 2015), Cesc Gay’s Truman (Spain-Argentina 2015), Lukas Valenta Rinner’s Parabellum (Argentina-Austria-Uruguay 2015) and Lorenzo Vigas’s Venice awardwinner Desde allá/From afar (Venezuela 2015). Information on the programme, including dates and times of screenings is available at: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/

For my reflections on three of the films from the programme, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/three-see-lff-if-you-films-spain-latin-america

Calixto Bieito’s Force of Destiny, ENO, 9 November - 20 December 2015

Calixto Bieito’s staging of Verdi’s opera looks certain to offer a new perspective on this tale of love, lawlessness and strife. Relocated to the Spanish Civil War, Bieito offers a new context for this 1863 melodrama. I’ll be discussing his production at ENO on 20 November at 5pm with broadcaster Christopher Cook and ENO Costume Production Manager Sarah Bowern. For further details, see https://www.eno.org/whats-on/15-16/the-force-of-destiny

Barcelona Kaleidoscope, British Library (Eliot & Dickens Rooms), 27 Feb. 17.00 - 20.00

What makes Barcelona such a creative city? This is the question that curator and critic Andrew Dempsey, academic Josep-Anton Fernàndez and I will be engaging with at a special event on Barcelona as a hub for the visual arts, literature, cinema and theatre at the British Library.  For further details, see http://www.llull.cat/offices/london/noticies_detall.cfm?id=31705&url=barcelona-kaleidoscope-visual-arts-literature-theatre-and-cinema-in-catalan-capital.html

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse Theatre London, opening 12 January 2015

Pedro Almodóvar is in London for the musical of Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The musical, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Jeffrey Lane has been radically rewritten since its New York debut in 2010 – it’s a leaner affair with a reshaped storyline and a less flamboyant aesthetic. I’ll be conducting two public Q&As with Pedro. Details of the first is listed below. The second follows the screening of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 11 January at 4.30.

Click image to enlarge

Argentine Film Festival London 27-30 November 2014

London’s Argentine Film Festival opens on 27 November bringing a number of exciting new films to London. Damián Szifrón’s bold and blisteringly funny Wild Things opens the Festival, playing at Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema on 27 November at 8pm and the Hackney Picturehouse on Friday 28th at 7pm. There’s UK premieres for Matías’ Lucchesi’s Natural Sciences, a wonderful coming of age tale set in the spectacular landscape of the Sierra de Córdoba mountains (Hackney PH Friday 28th at 9.30pm, Ritzy Saturday 29th at 6.50pm) and Mariano Cohn ad Gastón Duprat’s highly entertaining documentary Living Stars (Ritzy Friday 28th at 6.45pm, Hackney PH Saturday 29th at 6.45pm). Ricardo Darín’s son Chino Darín stars in a Natalia Meta’s erotic thriller Death in Buenos Aires (Ritzy 28 November 8.15pm, Hackney PH Saturday 29th at 8.15pm). Hernán Rosselli’s terrific Mauro is a blistering study of the effects of neoliberalism on the underbelly of Buenos Aires who eke out a precarious living operating across the black market of forged currency production (Ritzy Saturday 29th at 5pm) while Celina Murga’s psychological dram The Third Side of the Shore dismantles family dynamics to devastating effect (Ritzy Sunday 30th at 4.45pm, Hackney PH Sunday 30th 8.20pm). For further details on these films and further events, see http://www.argentinefilmfestival.co.uk/

25 September – 5 October, London Spanish Film Festival

The London Spanish Film Festival returns to the Ciné Lumière in October for its 10th Edition. I’ll be conducting a Q&A with two leading figures in Catalan filmmaking who bring important new works to the festival. On 1 October, at 8.30pm, Lluís Miñarro – best known for his role as a producer on films by Albert Serra, Isabel Coixet and Lisandro Alonso – presents his feature film debut Stella Cadente/Falling Star, first seen at the Rotterdam and Edinburgh Film Festivals earlier this year. It’s a witty, original reflection on the brief reign of King Amadeo I of Spain that offers some telling parallels with the precarious situation in contemporary Spain. On 2 October, at 8.30pm Ventura Pons presents his imaginative, funny and delightfully moving documentary, Ignasi M, a portrait of his friend the respected museologist and art restorer Ignasi Millet Bonaventura that resonates with his first feature Ocaña, retrat intermitent/Ocaña, An Intermittent Portrait (1977).

For further details, please click here: London Spanish Film Festival

BFI London Film Festival 8-19 October

This year’s BFI London Film Festival brings a wide selection of Spanish- and Portuguese-language works to the UK’s biggest film festival. Films include Damián Szifrón’s Relatos salvajes/Wild Tales (Argentina-Spain 2014), Franco Lolli’s Gente de bien (France-Colombia 2014), Carlos Marques-Marcet’s 10,000km (Spain 2014), Fellipe Barboso’s Casa grande (Brazil 2014), Daniel Ribeiro’s Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho/The Way He Looks (Brazil 2014), Gabriel Mascaro’s Ventos de agosto/August Winds (Brazil 2014), Jordi Morató’s Sobre la marxa/The Creator of the Jungle (Spain 2014), Pedro Costa’s Cavalo dinheiro/Horse Money (Portugal 2014), Matías Piñeiro’s La princesa de Francia/Princess of France (Argentina 2014, playing with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s Elli Lumme), Benjamín Naishtat’s Historia del miedo/History of Fear (Argentina-France-Germany-Uruguay-Qatar 2014), Martín Rejtman’s Dos disparos/ Two Shots Fired (Argentina-Chile-Germany 2014), Alejo Moguillansky’s El escarabajo de oro/The Gold Bug (Argentina-Denmark-Sweden 2014), Álvaro Brechner’s Mr Kaplan (Uruguay-Spain-Germany 2014), Emilio Martínez-Lázaro’s 8 Apellidos vascos/Spanish Affair (Spain 2013), Miguel Cohan’s Betibu (Argentina-Spain 2014), Daniel Monzón’s El niño (Spain-France 2014), Alfredo Montero’s La cueva/In Darkness We Fall (Spain 2013), Juan Fer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s Musarañas/Shrew’s Nest (Spain 2014), Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga’s Loreak/Flowers (Spain 2014), Alonso Ruizpalacios’s Güeros (Mexico 2014), Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja (Argentina-USA-Netherlands 2014). Further details available from the BFI London Film Festival website: http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff

I provide some personal reflections on Gente de bien, Dos disparos/ Two Shots Fired and Musarañas/Shrew’s Nest at www.bfi.org.uk

Golden Age theatre in London, 20 October 2014

Following Rakata’s visit to the Globe Theatre with their elegantly choreographed production of Lope de Vega’s Punishment without Revenge (1-6 September), the Compañia Nacional de Teatro Clásico [CNTC] are coming to London on 20 October presenting fragments of three Golden Age works, Calderón’s Life is a Dream and The Mayor of Zalamea and Lope de Vega’s Dog in a Manger. Ron Lala’s Somewhere in the Quixote, a coproduction with the CNTC was seen at the Riverside Studios earlier this year.

9 January – 15 March 2014
Don Gil of the Green Breeches by Tirso de Molina, A Lady of Little Sense and Punishment Without Revenge by Lope de Vega.
Three new productions (all new translations) of key works from Spain’s Golden Age can be seen at the Arcola Theatre. First presented at the Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Bath, the stagings, performed by an ensemble of 10 actors, offer new insights into the work of two of Spain’s leading 17th-century dramatists.
Please click here for more information.

Start the Week 13 January 2014

I was invited to join historian Linda Colley, The Times’ Berlin correspondent, David Charter, and The  Financial Times’ Asia correspondent David Pilling to discuss issues of unity and disunity and how they relate to identity and cultural politics. To listen to the show see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ph664

9 – 20 October 2013
This year’s London Film Festival features a broad range of new work from Spain and South America with a selection of filmmakers attending Q&As after the screenings. Films include: Sebastian Leilo’s Gloria (Chile-Spain 2012), Albert Serra’s Story of my Death (Spain-France 2013), Mariana Rondon’s Bad Hair (Venezuela 2013),Alberto Morais’ Kids from the Port (Spain 2013), Fernando Franco’s Wounded (Spain 2013),Alejo Moguillansky’s The Parrot and the Swan (Argentina, 2013), Jordi Cadena’s The Fear (Spain 2013), Jonás Trueba’s The Wishful Thinkers (Spain 2013), Diego Quemada Diez’s The Golden Dream (Mexico 2013), Marcello Lordello’s They’ll Come Back (Brazil 2012), Neus Ballus’s The Plague (Spain 2013), Santiago Loza’s La Paz (Argentina 2012), Alfredo Soderguit’s Anina (Uruguay-Colombia 2013) Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge’s So Much Water (Uruguay-Mexico-Netherlands-Germany 2013), Eugenia Mira’s Grand Piano (Spain-USA 2013), and Juan José Campanella’s Foosball (Argentina-Spain).

Website: www.bfi.org.uk/lff

27 September – 9 October
The 9th London Spanish Film Festival running at the Ciné Lumière features a range of new features as well as a special season of Jordi Mollà’s work. Maria Delgado will conduct a Q&A with actor Javier Cámara on Saturday 28 September at 8.30pm, following the screening of Isabel Coixet’s Ayer no termina nunca/Tomorrow Never Ends. She will also conduct a Q&A on Monday 30 September with producer Izaskun Arandia after the screening of the animation feature To Say Goodbye, based on the stories of the 4,000 Basque children evacuated to the UK during the Spanish Civil War. For further details of the festival, see the website www.londonspanishfilmfestival.com.

25 September – 17 October 2013
There are few directors who have polarized the British stage in recent years quite as contentiously as Calixto Bieito. In opera especially, his dislocation of familiar works has generated frenzied indignation from a generation of critics who have judged his productions abusive, vulgar and tasteless misreadings of works that defy such radical treatment. Bieito brings his production of Fidelio (first seen in Munich in 2010) to ENO this autumn, taking the melodrama of the opera and repositioning it as a moving tale of public as well as personal incarceration in a world where avarice, amorality and abuse too often serve as the governing imperative.

Maria Delgado discusses the production with Christopher Cook at ENO on Friday 27 September at 5.15 pm (www.eno.org/fidelio)