Tag Archives: Spanish

LIST CANDIDATE: ALMA (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Rodrigo Blaas

PLOT: Young Alma encounters a toy shop containing a doll bearing an uncanny resemblance to her.

Still from Alma (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: In communicating its tale of terror in a style and medium almost uniformly associated with mainstream family-friendliness, Alma stands out as weird amidst today’s persistent stream of digital animation.

COMMENTS: As this site’s regular Saturday Short feature has proven, animation is one of the most fitting mediums for short-length cinematic weirdness. Whether minimalist or elaborate, animation offers a strong opportunity to evoke a particularly singular visual concept within a short frame of time.

Former Pixar employee Rodrigo Blaas—whose name appears in the credits of some of the studio’s most beloved features—has, with Alma, added his own particular twist to this well-established cinematic convention. Drawing on his past work, Blaas bring us his simple, independent tale of surreal horror in the bright, stylized CGI that’s now all but synonymous with modern mainstream animation.

In its themes and narrative, meanwhile, Alma recalls a more antiquated form of family entertainment. Its components—the snow upon slanted rooftops and narrow cobblestone alleys; the toy shop, at once quaint and sinister; the protagonist, a mischievous little one with the air of a vagabond—bring to mind the classical elements of old children’s’ books. The plotline, which imposes a nightmarish fate upon its young protagonist as punishment for a petty misdeed, evokes the Victorian cautionary tales that Hilare Belloc so famously lampooned.

Needless to say, this results in a strikingly unique piece of short cinema; especially considering that, despite mashing together conventions of children’s entertainment from opposite ends of the 20th century, it is very clearly not intended for children. The simple plot follows young Alma, who, prancing merrily down a snowy alleyway one day, encounters a toy shop, with a doll precisely resembling her in the window. Unable to resist this singular temptation, she heads into the unattended shop to take the doll for herself, and meets horrifying consequences—ones that add a twist to the primal fear of endless damnation.

Told, like many short works of weirdness, entirely without dialogue, the story of Alma is, as befitting the nature of Blaas’ past work, communicated via five minutes’ worth of highly expressive visuals that quietly convey basic narrative and subtle details alike. Alma’s slightly ragged appearance hints at her humble background, lending context to her sticky-fingered nature. Hundreds of children have chalked their names on the wall in the alleyway in which she finds the shop. It’s also lined with what might be interpreted as a number of “Missing” posters, ominously hinting at the shop’s scourge of terror. And the store window, picturesque upon first glance, takes on the appearance of a leering monster’s gaping maw when examined more closely.

In terms of weirdness, Alma has its more obvious elements: most notably, flashes of surreal, nightmarish images when Alma seizes the doll. The genuine uniqueness of the short, however, is found in its bold effort to render an artistically-driven work of cinema in a style that’s become emblematic of mega-budget commercial family cinema. The contrast is striking. As an artistic choice, it’s not unprecedented, but Blaas, having come directly off the set of some of the industry’s leading titles, evokes the style with particular authenticity.

Development is currently underway for a Dreamworks-backed feature-length adaptation of the short. As many have already predicted, even with Blaas himself at the helm, it seems highly likely that this horrifying tale, effective chiefly for its simplicity, will lose more than a little of its punch when stretched into feature-length. If nothing else, however, said feature might draw a little more much-deserved attention to the original short.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a fairytale of the old kind, and if you have any sensitivity at all, you’ll be shivering as the snow drifts down at the end.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

Alma from Rodrigo Blaas on Vimeo.

CAPSULE: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lina Romay, Daniel Katz, Carmen Carrion, Albino Graziani, Jose Llamas, Mauro Rivera

PLOT: Irina, a psychic who performs a nightclub act with her lover Fabian, is plagued by nightmares that she believes to be real.

Still from Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some of the visuals are surreal and the film has a trippy feel; this is achieved with music and creative camera work that do not equate to weirdness.

COMMENTS: A few years ago I started a (NSFW) feature on Tumblr called Franco Friday. It was part of an ongoing project to see every film Jess Franco has directed. IMDB lists 203 Franco films; according to Wikipedia[1], that number is inaccurate. Apparently there are several films listed under more than one title. I noted in my June 2015 Vampyros Lesbos review that I had viewed some 40-plus Franco films at that time. Night Has a Thousand Desires marks my 70th Franco flick. It is already becoming difficult to find Franco films I have not seen, and I have yet to reach the halfway mark of his library.

Never missing an opportunity to make the most of a budget, Franco would often make two or three films all using the same cast, wardrobe and locations. Night Has a Thousand Desires was obviously filmed just before or after the inferior The Sexual Story of O, which I by chance had watched the week before. I have enjoyed a lot of  Franco’s output from the early 1980s, and I think Night Has a Thousand Desires is his best of the period.

The film takes place in the Grand Canary Islands; the scenery is really beautiful. Both the natural shots and the interior locations are well chosen. The building where much of the story takes place has lovely stained glass windows that Franco uses repeatedly; it lends a great deal to both films vibe. The garden setting where one of Irina’s nightmares occur is superb. The copious zoom shots Franco is so fond of effectively relay a feeling of hypnosis. Everything about this film visually is on point. The soundtrack complements it perfectly: a mix of music borrowed from previous Franco films, including Female Vampire and Devil Hunter, combined with all manner of groaning, grunting, echos and plenty of chanting. Irina’s name is repeated over and over throughout. In one scene, the film’s best, Irina shares a joint with a man and two women who had attended her night club act. I felt like I was getting stoned along with the quartet.

It wouldn’t be a Franco film without sex and violence. Rest assured there are healthy helpings of sex and nudity, and most of these scenes have a bloody ending. The story is straightforward and there is certainly no mystery to solve; plotwise, the cat is let out of the bag early. This does not make the film any less captivating to watch. Lina Romay is outstanding! Whether under a trance, screaming and howling, crying, laughing, giving or receiving sexual pleasure, her character is empathetic and very watchable. Night Has a Thousand Desires is an entertaining and visually impressive Franco effort with a fabulous soundtrack and a great performance by Romay that should delight his fans.

Mondo Macabro’s package offers a really nice Blu-ray transfer with concise, easy to read subtitles and crisp and clear sound. I had to turn down the volume several times (I’m pretty sure my neighbors already think I’m a pervert, so I don’t know why I bother). The extras are a bit thin. There is solid Eurotika documentary on Franco that I had actually already seen before (I believe on another Mondo Macabro release) and an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco.” The art work on the DVD cover by Justin Coffee is superb! If you are a fan of Jess Franco you need this in your collection.

  1. The number of films directed by Jess Franco according to Wikipedia is “about 160”. []

249. BLANCANIEVES (2012)

Snow White

Blancanieves combines the characteristic language of documentary, a typical feature of Spanish realist cinema, with other devices from the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum (fades, magical connections, etc.), typical of silent film – which in some cases call to mind Luis Buñuel’s surrealist aesthetic. These paradoxical styles help to create a visual atmosphere which is appropriate to the somewhat sinister tale by the Brothers Grimm which serves as the pretext of the film.”–Jorge Latorre

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Pablo Berger

FEATURING: Maribel Verdú, Macarena García, Sofía Oria, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Sergio Dorado

PLOT: Antonio Villalta is a famous bullfighter with a pregnant wife who is distracted in the ring and gored by a bull. The accident leaves him wheelchair-bound, his wife dies giving birth to his daughter, and he marries his nurse Encarna, a cruel and manipulative sociopath who only wants him for his fortune. Encarna at first keeps Carmen, Antonio’s daughter, as a servant girl and virtual slave on the estate, but orders her killed when she is found visiting her father against her stepmothers will; Carmen escapes and is rescued by a band of dwarfs who travel Spain performing a novelty bullfighting act.

Still from Blancanieves (2102)

BACKGROUND:

  • The folk tale “Snow White” was first set down in print by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.
  • Dwarf matadors (known as “charlotada”), who would warm up the crowd before the main event, were a real phenomenon in Spanish bullfighting.
  • Writer/director Pablo Berger cites ‘s Freaks (1932) as one of his main inspirations for the script.
  • Blancanieves was in development for eight years before filming began. This means that it was conceived before The Artist, the revivalist silent film that won the Academy Award in 2011.
  • The film won 10 Goyas (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar), including Best Film and Best Actress for villainess Maribel Verdú. Spain submitted it to the Academy Awards but it was not one of the five foreign film finalists.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Pablo Berger’s film utilizes simple tricks that would have been available to filmmakers in the 1920s, including frequent use of superimposed double images. The most effective of these is the shadowy skull that flashes over the skin of the apple as the wicked stepmother poisons it (using a syringe), while her intended victim basks in the crowd’s adulatory applause in the background, out of focus.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Rooster cam; transvestite bullfighting dwarf; crying corpse

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: “I have this idea for a Snow White adaptation set among Spanish bullfighters in the 1920s, but how can I make it weird? I know! I’ll make it an expressionistic silent film, and make one of the dwarfs a transvestite and give the wicked stepmother a penchant for S&M!” Well done, Pablo Berger.


Original U.S. release trailer for Blancanieves

COMMENTS: As the early career of Guy Maddin reminds us, silent Continue reading 249. BLANCANIEVES (2012)

READER RECOMMENDATION: STOCKHOLM (2013)

Reader review by Careina Marcos

DIRECTED BY: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

FEATURING: Javier Pereira, Aura Garrido

PLOT:  A guy tries to get a girl to notice him at a party but she refuses, and the story continues in a long and interesting conversations until he manages to gain her attention.

Still from Stockholm (2013)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Not your typical romance film. It’s not the usual guy-gets-the-girl or they-had-a-happy-ending kind of movie.  Its strangeness, mysteriousness, and persuasiveness will surprise you, frighten you, crush you, then kill you.

COMMENTS: The movie starts with a usual conversation between guys at a night club. Javier Pereira  approaches and declares to Aura Garrido that he is in love with her. She initially rejects him, but he persists, following her and engaging in a continuous conversation about life and love around the late-night streets of Madrid. They end up walking together until they reach Pereira’s apartment. They have a cat-and-mouse moment, with Garrido testing him about his real motives as he expertly dresses up his desire for sex. She had doubts, though they are both disengaged from their emotions, playing roles. The next morning, after Pereira gets what he desired, they have some troubling chat but end up in his building’s rooftop to have a coffee in the cold light of day. It’s also their first time to find out who they really are and that they’re seeking entirely different things. They’ve had a lot of talks, but neither has been telling the truth.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen (known for his TV work in Spain) deconstructs the behavior that leads to one-night stands in this warped, genre-bending sort-of romance… a strong start in cinema for Sorogoyen, and a fine twist on the walk-and-talk romance, but its final act is too writer-y to fit in among what was previously established as a realism-minded drama.”–Taylor Sinople, The Focus Pull (festival screening)

SATURDAY SHORT: UNICORN BLOOD (2013)

Alberto Vázquez has been featured here before when we highlighted his short Birdboy. I had the pleasure of seeing “Unicorn Blood” when it was featured at Slamdance last year. With the impression it left, there was no doubt it would be shared on this site as soon as it was available. If you don’t speak Spanish, be sure to turn on the subtitles by pressing the “cc” button.

Content Warning: This short contains nudity and graphic violence against unicorns.

LIST CANDIDATE: WITCHING AND BITCHING (2013)

Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Hugo Silva, , Mario Casas, Jaime Ordóñez, , Terele Pávez, Gabriel Delgado

PLOT: Small-time crooks bump into a coven of witches while on the run.

Still frpm Witching and Bitching (2013)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Like most of ‘s spiffy, nutty B-movie efforts, Witching comes close to making the List at first glance. Its spell is mad and it makes for near perfect Halloween (or post-Halloween) entertainment—but does de la Iglesia have a better weird candidate out there lurking in his canon?

COMMENTS: About midway through Witching and Bitching, as the three main protagonists are tied up at a feast while their hostess paces on the ceiling talking on her cellphone, one of them speculates that they must have been drugged by witches’ ointment and are experiencing a mass hallucination. From their standpoint it’s a credible theory, but in the world of the movie, the scene is terribly real, and it’s about to get worse. But let’s go back to  the beginning. After a Macbeth-ish “bubble bubble” prologue, Witching begins in earnest when Jesus, a green toy soldier, and some trademarked cartoon characters (you’ll never think of a certain sponge the same way again) rob a sad-sack pawn shop of its fortune in hocked wedding rings. Following a hail of bullets and a car chase, we learn that the shotgun-toting Jesus has brought his elementary school-aged son along on the heist. Fleeing in a hijacked taxi towards the French border, the two escaped gunmen recruit the driver to their cause by sharing sob stories about women problems.

Unfortunately, the gang’s escape route takes them through the Basque town of Zugarramurdi, a historical center of witchcraft, and things take a supernatural turn. Before we know it there are women walking on the ceiling; along the way we also get grabby toilets, a pair of transvestite witches, and hot punk sorceress Carolina Bang in black undies humping a broomstick while dousing herself with fresh-squeezed toad blood. With the protags tailed by an angry ex and a pair of squabbling detectives, it all ends up in an apocalyptic eldritch ceremony with a globby giant demon-Goddess whose appearance actually elicited a “wow” from this reviewer.

There’s plenty of comedy, too, much of it revolving around child custody and sexual politics. In fact, the grossout gags mixed with a pseudo-misogynist, women-are-inherently-evil subtext at times suggests Antichrist by way of Evil Dead II, although the men here are no prize either and the warring genders are reconciled by the film’s happy ending. Despite the battle-of-the-sexes thematic subtext, Witching is overwhelmingly a plot-and-gag based affair with hardly a whiff of seriousness. It’s a rambunctious ride that seldom lets up for a breather; it just keeps pressing the petal to the floor, injecting more crazy fuel into its insanity engine. Witching is the movie From Dusk Till Dawn wanted to be: wall-to-wall frenzy, without the smug egos.

Whoever approved the English-language title, however, should be burned at the stake.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Full of weird and wonderful insanity, Witching and Bitching is the kind of wild ride you don’t look away from.”–Neil Miller, Film School Rejects (contemporaneous)