Spanish Film Festival’s top five

Not everyone knows this, but Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world (after Mandarin). And as audiences were told at the opening night of the 20th Spanish Film Festival, by 2050, there will be more Spanish speaking people in the US than English. Does that mean we’ll need subtitles on Hollywood films then?

No wonder that the Spanish Film Festivals at Palace Cinemas are going from strength to strength, building up their audience numbers every year. Some inner west film-buffs go every year automatically – on the look out for little-known wonders before our local art-house distributors nab them. But for non-Spanish speakers, it can be difficult to know what to see amongst the plethora of unfamiliar titles. It’s no secret that every country makes cable-grade crime dramas and movies more suitable to day-time TV. Just because they’re in a European language, doesn’t necessarily make them any good.

A good indication is the festival awards and nominations the program guide booklets inevitably display, and yes, those quotes from respected publications like Variety do mean something. Another way of sorting out a must-see list is just to take our word for it. Yep, the lovely people at the Spanish Film Festival have allowed us to preview quite a few this year, and you can trust us!

Here are five choice picks, in no particular order:

Summer, 1993

Carla Simon Pipó’s autobiographical film (above pic) won the Best First Feature and Best Youth Feature at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, and will almost certainly get a wider release some time this year or next. It’s a poignant and unusual film about 6-year old orphan from Barcelona trying to make sense of her new life and surroundings after being adopted by relatives in the country, and we see her confusion and loneliness entirely through her eyes. Few adult ones will be dry by the end, but remarkably, there’s precious little sentimentality. It’s a gem, as beautiful as its little star actor (Laia Artigas).

The Fury of a Patient Man

Raúl Arévalo is better known as an actor (Marshland, I’m So Excited), but his directorial debut certainly attracted lots of critical attention, scooping up Best Picture, Best New Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 2017 Goya Awards. It’s a taut and hard-bitten revenge thriller with a dazzlingly intense central performance from Antonio de la Torre (The Night Manager). Patchy at first, but before long you’ll be glued to your seat, right through to its electrifying final scene.

The Distinguished Citizen

This darkly comic film from Argentina won Best Foreign Film in Spanish Language at the 2017 Goya’s, while lead actor Daniel Mantovani picked up Best Actor at Venice. He plays a Nobel-prize-winning author who returns to the provincial town he was brought up in, to be feted and confronted by the people who supplied him with all his prize-winning material. It’s sharply observed and deliciously droll.

The Bar

Director Alex de la Iglesia taps into the present European zeitgeist of fear and paranoia about terrorism and immigration in this darkest of black comedies. It starts with a group of customers trapped inside a neighbourhood bar by an act of random violence, but then that bar and its cellar become a stage for some nasty and repressed emotions to play out. Layers of absurdity and madcap action reveal a society (literally) waist high in shit. That doesn’t sound funny (it’s true, you do need a strong stomach), but then that sour mood in Europe isn’t all that funny either…

The Reconquest

Spanish films (all those above) are often intense –  bristling with high drama and conflict, but Jonas Trueba’s romantic drama is a gentle respite from all that. Picking up heaps of praise at the London Film Festival, La Recoquista deals with a couple meeting fifteen years after they were teenage sweethearts.  It has been quite fairly compared with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, and has both funny and melancholy moments as the two now thirty-somethings come to terms with the passage of time.

Head to the festival website for info and bookings.

Compiled by: Russell Edwards