Today: April 16, 2024

European Wonders – Spain

Spain is well known for providing the world with cheap holiday resorts, great architects, wonderful footballers and tapas. But, when compared to the likes of France, Germany and Italy, Spanish films never seem to get the same recognition as their European counterparts.

Spain is well known for providing the world with
cheap holiday resorts, great architects, wonderful footballers and tapas. But,
when compared to the likes of France, Germany and Italy, Spanish films never
seem to get the same recognition as their European counterparts.
However, all this is changing. The surge in the
popularity of directors like Pedro
Almodovar
and Gulliermo Del Toro has
seen Spanish cinema begin to establish itself on a world stage. With this in
mind, Greg Evans offers up his suggestions of ten of the best Spanish films out
there.

Finisterrae
A
largely unseen film, this Catalan oddity
is a road movie – with ghosts. After getting bored of walking around in
purgatory the ghosts decide to embark upon the famous Way of St James, in an
attempt to be reborn. Along the way, they encounter an array of characters and
witness some bizarre scenes. Let’s just say, it’s completely mad, but very
amusing and looks magnificent throughout. If you enjoy quirky indie-art house
films then Finisterrae will be right up your street.

The Orphanage
If it’s
possible The Orphanage is a chilling, yet sad horror story. A woman returns to
her childhood home with her family, to set up an orphanage for disabled
children. Soon after moving in, her son begins to communicate with new,
invisible friends. She thinks nothing of it, until strange goings on and
disappearances are linked to her son’s newfound acquaintances. Driven by a
fantastic central performance from Belen
Rueda
, The Orphanage is a
traditional horror film containing some genuinely haunting scenes.

Amores Perros
In a
slight bending of the rules, a handful of Latin American films have made it
into this list. The first of which is Alejandro
Gonzalez Inarritu’s, Amores Perros.
The first in Inarritu’s Trilogy of Death (which also includes 21 Grams and Babel) focuses around three very different lives and how one
horrific car crash changes them all. A teenager involved in an awful dog
fighting circuit, a model on the verge of superstardom, and a homeless hit man
all unknowingly alter each other’s lives with the smallest of acts. Described
as a Mexican Pulp Fiction, Amores
Perros is a strong and tough film that makes you appreciate whatever you have.

Open Your Eyes
A man’s
life descends into absolute chaos and paranoia, switching between his perfect
life with Penelope Cruz and a
hellacious one, complete with a stalker and a mangled face. What was supposed
to be a dream becomes a living nightmare. In fact, the only bad thing about
Open Your Eyes is that it was remade
into Vanilla Sky. Not that Vanilla Sky is as bad as it’s
made out to be. It’s just not as good as Open Your Eyes. Sure, it had a lot
more visually going for it, but Open Your Eyes is so full of ideas and
innovation it would have been hard for anyone to recreate such a unique film.

[Rec]
If you
were to look up a list of great modern horror films, it is unlikely that [Rec]
would be on that list. Which is so wrong as this incredible film, is one of the
scariest modern horrors and deserves to be ranked right up there with the very
best. A news crew accompany a group of fire fighters who are called out to
investigate a strange occurrence at an apartment block. Not long after
arriving, all hell breaks lose … Filmed in first person the pace is
unrelenting and the tension never gives up. The final ten minutes of [Rec] have
to be one of the terrifying ever committed to film.

El Topo
Magician,
alchemist, Buddhist, shaman, tarot reader and comic book artist: Alejandro Jodorowsky isn’t your average
director. And El Topo isn’t an average film either. Essentially a western but
unlike any other western ever made. Told in two parts, both follow El Topo as
he becomes the greatest gunman in the land and avenges a village of cripples
and dwarfs. Full of iconography, religion, philosophy and metaphors El Topo
often becomes so profound that it transcends cinema itself. Even the trailer is
amazing.

Y Tu Mama Tambien
Y Tu
Mama Tambien is a perfectly balanced mix of road movie and coming of age film.
It tells the story of two best friends, Juilo and Tenoch, as they go on the
trip of a lifetime with Luisa, an older, disgruntled woman. Sexually explicit,
but not pornographic, Y Tu Mama Tambien is a personal journey of
self-discovery. The two friends learn that they must abandon their adolescent
ways in order to achieve their aims while Luisa finally reaches some clarity on
her turbulent life. Director Alfonso
Cuaron
is on top form here, as his trademark prolonged shots allow the film
to go beyond the level of crassness that would be usually associated with this
type of film. Y Tu Mama Tambien is an unlikely achievement that will
unexpectedly move you.

Pan’s Labyrinth (Main Picture)
Perhaps
one the most brutal fairytales ever told, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pans Labyrinth
is one of the most critically acclaimed films of recent years. Set during the
Spanish civil war, a little girl by the name of Ofelia discovers a strange and
magical labyrinth land that she may or may not belong to. She is assigned by
the mysterious Faun to complete three tasks to prove her essence and validity
to this strange world. Meanwhile, her new fascist step father quickly becomes
suspicious of her peculiar activities. Full of fantastical imagery and original
characters, such as the iconic Pale Man, Pan’s Labyrinth is a harsh but
wondrous film that is rewarding for any age group.

Cria Cuervos
After
the unexpected death of both their parents, three sisters are forced to live
with their aunt and mute grandmother. The main sister, Ana, becomes obsessed
with death and regularly converses with her dead mother. Ana often proclaims
great pieces of philosophy on the after life, but is sometimes brutally melancholic.
To hear a child of her age says such things is unsettling and upsetting, but
there are glimmers of hope and prosperity throughout the film. The scene where
the sisters dance and sing along to the Spanish pop song ‘Por Que Te Vas’ is
genuinely uplifting. Often bleak, Cria Cuervos is an accomplished insight into
how children deal with bereavement.

The Skin I Live In
Sometimes
when looking for the best, you have to look to the most obvious. Pedro
Almodovar has been making films for over 30 years now and is the undisputed
king of Spanish cinema. His films such as Woman
On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
and All About My Mother are as good as anything else on this list but,
like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. Last year’s The Skin I Live In may just be his
best. Antonio Banderas is a hugely
talented plastic surgeon who is on the verge of creating the perfect synthetic
skin. However he is plagued by past tragedies that haunt his life and his
perception of the world. Within his possession is a beautiful young girl whose
relationship with him is strange, to say the least. As the story unfolds, you
bare witness to some incredible story telling and a narrative that has been
constructed so well, that even Hitchcock
would be impressed. The audience is treated to great visuals and cinematography
in virtually every scene. Banderas gives one of the best performances of his
entire career and was cruelly overlooked in the awards this year. Beautifully
insane and surreal. A truly original masterpiece. Let’s hope Pedro has got a
few more gems like this up his sleeve.

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