Monday, May 26, 2014

On my silver screen lately

Among the perks of being a Melburnian is the amount of foreign movie festivals we get rolling into town year-round. How lucky we are!

My most recent cinematographic experience worthy of a blog post so far this year has been with the Spanish Film Festival where Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed (Vivir es facil con los ojos cerrados) graced the opening night and The Witches of Zugarramurdi (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) (its title oddly translated as Witching & Bitching) was featured in the closing.

But my absolutely transcendental movie-provoked experience took place months prior when I was swept away and massively overwhelmed by The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza), the Italian jewel of the 2013 International Film Festival and an Oscar winner for the Best Foreign Film.



Here are some thoughts on these three very different works.  

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed



Set in the 1960s Spain, the story follows Antonio, a mild-mannered school teacher who also happens to be a huge Beatles fan. Antonio goes on a spontaneous road trip in hopes of meeting John Lennon. True story: in 1966 Lennon was indeed based in Spain, in the province of Almería where he was filming How I Won The War... On his way, Antonio picks up two hitchers - a runaway teenage boy and a (not-so-secretly) pregnant young woman, both escaping their pasts, but moving forward without real aim. 

As far as narratives go, that of Living Is Easy... is as heart-warming as it is heart-wrenching. My own heart, hardened by the over-exposure to the kind of movies that deliver bad news with a  subtlety of sledgehammer, was expecting the worst, or at least waiting for something bad to happen... But, without giving much away, I have to say that Living Is Easy... delivered a bitter-sweet, surprising and deeply satisfying closure. European cinema at its finest. And, of course superb performances by Javier Cámara, Natalia de Molina and Francesc Colomer.



The Witches of Zugarramurdi


Witching and bitching poster.jpg

This was an odd one. 

It won eight out of ten nominations in the 28th Goya Awards


My overall verdict: the first half of Witches... had me squealing in joy of anticipation of great things to come, but the second half had me deflating as it went the way of too-much-weird-but-tropey. I have nothing against weird. I love weird. But tropey is another issue and tropey can go wrong when not executed with finesse. In the case of Witches..., the second half while all right overall left me lukewarm. 


The premise of Witches... is simple but quirky enough to be intriguing: a ''Jesus'' and a Tin Soldier with the assistance of a Sponge Bob (?) & Co as well as of a cheeky little boy rob a second-hand jewellery shop. The robbery goes badly, but ''Jesus'', Tin Soldier and the cheeky little boy get away (with a bag full of old golden wedding rings sold by their owners post-divorce - bad luck!). They hijack a cab (complete with a driver and a passenger) and embark on a road trip to France. Instead they end up in a town called Zugarramurdi which is apparently overrun by witches. You can guess what goes on in the second part of this movie... 


The Witches... is a horror-comedy. Its narrative, defined by a peculiar style of dark humor, reminded me of another Spanish movie (which was one of the highlights of the Spanish Film Festival 2013) - Game of Werewolves (Lobos de Agra) which was also set in a creepy little town (one if my hyper-catnip tropes - I love love love stories set in creepy little towns!). 


Perhaps the most intriguing thing about The Witches... (for me) is that Zugarramurdi is a real town located in Navarre, Northern Spain, and has a real history with witches and witch hunts. Just look up Basque witch trials online to see what this is all about. By the way, the Zugarramurdi looks exactly like the place I'd like to visit or even perhaps go to for a writing retreat to work on my next novel... Just look at these:


   


The Great Beauty poster.jpg

And finally The Great Beauty

"I was destined to sensibility. I was destined to become a writer. I was destined to become Jep Gambardella"



Jep, who in the long-gone past has authored one highly influential book, now works as an art critic for a magazine. 

After his 65th birthday party he wanders the stunning dark and glimmering streets of Rome while ruminating about his life and his one great love - the one who got away


Jep is haunted by this one scene from his youth - where the girl he was falling for told him something that has affected his entire life after that moment (by the time the great reveal of what exactly did she say to him occurred I was already weeping... I still get all teary just remembering that scene by the lighthouse). 


During his wanderings Jep encounters a beautiful stripper, a saint, a "Botox-cult" leader, a wanna-be conceptual artist and a vanishing giraffe. Jep mourns the things he wanted but never got, he finds love, discovers new and unexpected things about himself and about his beloved city and he just lives. 


Rome through Jep's eyes is breathtaking. 


Jaded but wistful and utterly romantic, The Great Beauty is a story of a seeking heart and the ultimate essence of humanity.    




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