Tag Archives: Luis Tosar

Spanish Cinema Symposium with Icíar Bollaín, University of St. Andrews, May 2014

Last week I attended the Spanish Cinema Symposium with Icíar Bollaín at the University of St. Andrews.  I was very much looking forward to the event, not least because it allowed me to escape my huge pile of marking for the day!  I did live-tweet throughout the day, but I found that I was unable to keep up with the demands of live-tweeting and note-taking.  I decided to write up my notes into this blog post, for those who were following my tweets and were interested to learn more about the day’s proceedings.

After a brief welcome and introduction by St. Andrews’ own Bernard Bentley, the day kicked off with Professor Núria Triana Toribio (University of Kent), and her presentation entitled ‘Cine es pañal: Spanish “Realismo Social” and Icíar Bollaín’s Mataharis’.  Triana began by noting that Bollaín positions herself, and is positioned by critics, as part of a European realist tradition, before arguing that Mataharis constitutes a moment of rupture within this framework.  In an inspired reading of the opening credits, Triana argued that the image in which one of the female detectives changes her baby’s nappy (hence the talk’s title, ‘Cine es pañal’ (nappy)) represents a dramatic shift both in terms of Bollaín’s filmmaking, and within the wider context of Spanish cinema.  In the context of Bollaín’s oeuvre, this moment, and more generally this film, marks a departure from the social realist tradition of which she is a part.  For Triana, the inclusion of this nappy-changing moment indicates a turn to the quotidian, in comparison with the filmmaker’s earlier focus on the ‘big topics’ or ‘headlines’ of social realism: the depiction of immigration and social integration in Flores de otro mundo (1999) and the treatment of domestic violence in Te doy mis ojos (2003) are examples of this earlier trend.  With regards Spanish cinema more broadly, Mataharis’ reworking of the film noir genre is demonstrative of the turn to genre in 2008.  Triana traced this turn to genre in Spanish cinema through a series of changes at the level of practice within the Spanish film industry, including television companies venturing into film funding, El Orfanato – a horror film – winning the Goya for Best Film, and the realisation that genre allowed filmmakers to speak to both national and international audiences.  She concluded her talk by comparing detective Eva (Najwa Nimri) and her return to work – which can only occur once she has run the bath, organised dinner, and settled the children – with Jeff’s return to work in Out of the Past (1947) – which occurs after a dramatic revelation and passionate encounter with the lady in his life.  With this comparison, Triana demonstrated her thesis: that Bollaín’s Mataharis reworks genre/gender with a focus on everyday realism.

Nimri in Mataharis
Nimri in Mataharis

After a brief break for coffee and cakes (which were delicious!), Dr. David Archibald (University of Glasgow) offered a presentation on the topic of ‘Cinematic Representations of Anti-Fascist Women in the Spanish Civil War’.  He focused on representations of women fighting – or not – in the Spanish Civil War, and how this concept is treated in different cinemas.  His presentation offered a survey of diverse films and their depictions of women in the Spanish Civil War context, including For Whom the Bell Tolls (Wood, 1943), El árbol de Guernica (Arrabal, 1975), ¡Ay, Carmela! (Saura, 1990), and Libertarias (Aranda, 1996).  He then turned his attentions to Tierra y libertad (Loach, 1995), starring Bollaín, arguing that this film illustrates the complexities of the female figure at the front.  For Archibald, Bollaín’s character is politically aware but also displays warmth, solidarity, and compassion with her comrades.  However, he acknowledged the film’s limitations in terms of the representation of women in conflict, given the symbolic use of the female body through the character of Blanca, who is shot in the back precisely at the moment in which the POUM are betrayed.  Overall, Archibald’s paper offered an overview of how leftist women have been differently depicted across distinct geographical and historical contexts.

Following a break for lunch, we returned for a screening of También la lluvia, introduced by the director herself.  I have seen the film a number of times, but it was such a pleasure to see it on a big screen again.  It contains a number of actors I enjoy watching (Tosar, Bernal, Arevalo), and I find the metacinematic dimension of the film really interesting.  I am not going to spend time unpacking the film in any more detail here (perhaps a future blog post in that…).  But I wanted to at least mention this element of the programme, because I think it was an inspired decision.  Not only did it allow the audience to relax after lunch (always a sleepy moment in the day for me!), but it also provided fodder for the question-and-answer session that followed.

Tosar and Bernal in También la lluvía
Tosar and Bernal in También la lluvía

After the film had finished, we had another quick coffee and cake break before the Q and A session with Bollaín.  Bernard Bentley collected questions from the audience and wrote them on the board.  Bollaín offered responses to most of the questions raised, talking openly and articulately about her life and work.  She began by discussing why she wanted to become a filmmaker as a means of telling her own stories, noting that it stemmed from her career as an actress, in which she felt that she was a vehicle for someone else’s story.  She spoke in detail about the process of script-writing, about how she prefers to work with a co-scriptwriter rather than on her own, about how she spends a lot of time researching the topic she is working on in the film.  She stressed the need for more female authors in the film industry, noting the male bias which persists even in the contemporary context.  Picking up on Núria Triana Toribio’s earlier presentation, she discussed the motivation behind Mataharis, which reflects her life at the time of production – in which she was dealing with babies and nappies, juggling work and motherhood.  For Bollaín, this film represented what was missing from the big screen: representations of women in their 30s, simply dealing with everyday life.  She was also asked about her methodologies when working with different actors, detailing her recent forays into working with non-professional actors (in También la lluvía and Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo (2011) in particular), and praising an actor with whom she has worked several times: Luis Tosar.  The conversation was frequently punctuated with clips from Bollaín’s oeuvre, including the very amusing short (featuring the aforementioned Tosar) ‘Por tu bien’ (which you can watch here – and you should – it is very funny!).

Tosar in Por tu bien
Tosar in Por tu bien

In addition, Bollaín also spent a considerable amount of time speaking about the creative processes of filmmaking.  She noted that she loves editing, finding it the most creative part of filmmaking (other than the writing of the script).  In a lovely metaphor, she compared it to going to the market to get the ingredients you need, but it is when you start editing that you start cooking.  She also commented that she always changes the endings of her films during the editing process.  She spoke at length about the procedures they had to follow in Bolivia when making También la lluvía, including going to the local assemblies to ask permissions, having to provide materials for the local communicates and so on.  Finally, she spoke about her current project, which is a documentary about Spanish people, with qualifications, leaving Spain and working in menial jobs in other countries.  She stressed a desire to convey the reality of their situations, which is at odds with how Spanish politicians portray their circumstances, in that they insist that these people have made decisions to better/further their careers and so on.  She also noted that she will be filming another script written by Paul Laverty – who wrote the script for También la lluvía – next year.  As a closing remark, she observed that she is impressed by the way academics dedicate themselves to film.

All in all, this was a highly enjoyable, successful event, and a real pleasure to attend!

Una pistola en cada mano


Image taken from http://premiosgoya.academiadecine.com/candidaturas/pelicula.php?m=peliculas&id=1611

***This review contains spoilers so please do not read if you want to watch the film without prior knowledge of the plot.***

I had seen this film mentioned a lot on Twitter, where I follow actors such as Eduardo Noriega and Javier Cámara – both of whom star in the film.  Both actors had tweeted about the film during the production process and I was particularly struck by the awesome cast: Cámara, Noriega, Ricardo Darín, Eduard Fernández, Jordi Mollà, Alberto San Juan, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Luis Tosar, Cayetana Guillén Cuervo, Candela Peña, Clara Segura, and Leonor Watling.  The film was promoted as a comedy centred around a group of male characters, between the ages of 30 and 50.  I was interested to see the film due to its focus on masculinity: issues surrounding gender and sexuality have formed part of my research since my Masters year, however my interest in masculinity signals a more recent development in my work.  I knew the film was unlikely to be released in UK cinemas so when I spotted the film for a bargain of a price on amazon.es I swiftly purchased it.

Una pistola en cada mano is directed by Cesc Gay, who also directed Krámpack/Nico and Dani (2000), a coming of age narrative that focuses on the sexual awakening, and homoerotic relationship, between two teenage boys.  While Una pistola marks a continuation of Gay’s investigation of masculinity, its focus is not teenage boys but rather, as I mentioned above, a group of men aged between 30 and 50 years old.  The film is set and filmed in Barcelona, although the city’s iconic buildings and sites are, for the most part, absent from the mise-en-scène.  The film is structured around a series of vignettes in which, typically, two characters have a frank discussion about particularly challenging issues they are facing in their lives.

The first of these vignettes stars Sbaraglia and Fernández.  The pair are school friends who have not seen one another in a long time, and their encounter is a chance one, facilitated by E. (Fernández) deciding to take shelter from a heavy rain shower.  It becomes evident that neither of the men are particularly content with their lot, and the viewer detects that there is a hint of resentment, at least in terms of J. (Sbaraglia) who insensitively asks about the death of his old friend’s father and who makes a snide remark about not being invited to his wedding.

The second segment details a conversation between S. (Javier Cámara) and his ex-wife, in which he confesses his love for her – only to be told some surprising news. The scene is at once awkward and moving; this is underscored by Cámara’s appearance as rather rotund and with a receding hairline, in stark contrast to his turn as camp air steward Joserra in Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent production, Los amantes pasajeros/I’m So Excited.

The third vignette – my favourite – stars Ricardo Darín and Luis Tosar.  The two men meet by chance in a park, having met the previous summer while on holiday.  G. (Darín) is a little out of sorts because he has followed his wife to her lover’s apartment.  He shares the details of his wife’s infidelity with L. (Tosar), who has also recently split with his partner, and the two men debate what G. should do next.  The way in which their exchange is filmed – and indeed this applies in some of the other segments – indicates the curious proximity of the two men, in spite of their status as acquaintances; this is underscored by the close-ups of the backs of their heads, side-by-side on the park bench.

The fourth segment is the most uncomfortable to watch – at least in my opinion.  The setting for this encounter is an open-plan office. P. (Eduardo Noriega) approaches Mamen (Candela Peña) as he is leaving and offers her a lift.  Attempting – unsuccessfully – to flirt with her, the viewer sympathises with him, interpreting his ineptitude as shyness.  However, we quickly learn that he in fact has a wife, and a child.  Mamen does not hesitate in teaching him a humiliating lesson.

The fifth and sixth vignettes are intercut, building up a dialogue between the two couples in each part.  María (Leonor Watling) spots A. (Alberto San Juan) and offers him a lift to the party where several of the characters are headed.  In the meantime, their partners, Sara (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo) and M. (Jordi Mollà) happen upon one another in a wine shop.  Each of the women talk to their partner’s friends about issues that they are struggling with – including domestic violence and erectile dysfunction – meaning that when the two men encounter each other at the party, they are unable to make conversation or even to look one another in their eye.

The film ends with a short sequence bringing together the majority of the film’s characters at S.’s party.  A brief episode involving his neighbour closes the film on a humorous note, only subtly implying the link between the two characters to the viewer.

The segments solely involving male characters prove the most interesting, at least from my perspective.  Those depicting conversations between a male and a female character are notably more awkward, and the dialogue is more serious and less humorous.  The film’s focus on middle-aged masculinity reflects, what I see as, a wider cinematic exploration of crises in manhood.  Examples of this include Daniel Craig’s ageing James Bond; Andrew Garfield’s uninvincible Spiderman; and Robert Downey Jr’s post-traumatic-stress-suffering Ironman.  In Gay’s film, these crises stem mainly from fractured romantic relationships, but involve also the failing bodies and the tortured minds of some of the characters.  A link might be traced then between this and other representations of “inadequate” Spanish masculinities in recent years in films such as Los lunes al sol (Fernando León de Aranoa, 2002), which focused on unemployed Galician dock workers, and Mar Adentro (Alejandro Amenábar, 2004), which depicted the story of Ramón Sampedro – a quadriplegic who fought for 26 years for the right to end his life.

One criticism I would direct at the film is its unique focus on heterosexual men, and its failure to incorporate a homosexual male character.  The inclusion of one vignette detailing the choices and problems facing a homosexual man of the same age would have made for an intriguing point of contrast.

In sum, I would recommend the film for those seeking a light-hearted comedy that is not afraid to tackle sensitive issues.

London / Luis Tosar / Mientras duermes

Last week, I had a short break from PhD work and went off on my travels to London.  While there I attended the Mientras duermes  screening at the London Spanish Film Festival, which was preceded by an interview with Luis Tosar.

***DISCLOSURE: As an avid fan of Tosar and his work, I cannot promise that this review will be impartial!***

Asked about why he decided to become an actor, Luis explained that an early inspiration was a school teacher of his who encouraged him to read and to perform in class.  He discussed his early work in Galicia, and his timidity when his career carried him beyond the territory of his home region.  He spoke of his continued commitment to Galician cinema, and of the work involved when promoting regional culture elsewhere in Spain.  When an audience member asked how far (in geographical terms) his work would be likely to take him, he responded honestly that he was not sure, but that he saw himself in Spain for the moment – he commented that given the current state of affairs there, many of his colleagues have left and those who can afford to stay, like him, should do so.

Erudite, endearing, and witty, Luis revealed an astute awareness of the political possibilities of film.  Discussing the impact of cine social in Spain, he commended the way in which the genre had succeeded in making contemporary issues visible.  For Luis, this is further underscored by today’s culture in which news items appear so quickly and immediately, only to disappear again within an instant, and without the opportunity for reflection.  Cinema, by contrast, provides both time and space for the treatment and contemplation of topical social matters.

Though not an example of the cine social genre, Mientras duermes does contend with a number of key issues pertinent to contemporary society both within and beyond Spain.  The central theme is trust and its violation, given that the film’s villain occupies a position of responsibility.  Tosar plays César, the caretaker of a modernist apartment block in Barcelona.  Desperately unhappy, César believes he has two options by which to improve his state of mind: take his own life, or make the residents of the apartment block in which he works as miserable as he is.  Calling into question the boundaries of inside and outside, of security and threat, the film is tense and claustrophobic – an example of this is the repeated high angle images of César in his cramped shower cubicle.  Moreover, the film’s subversive play extends into genre conventions, particularly with regard to typical patterns of identification.  By aligning the spectator with villain César rather than with his victims, the tension created provokes an uneasy and ambivalent reaction in the viewer.

I hesitate to say more about the film as it is due for UK release in January 2013 – definitely worth a watch!
(Thanks to Rebecca Naughten, whose Spanish Cinema blog alerted me to the festival and this event)