Friday, December 11, 2009

Handily juggling youth, sex and art at SCN: Salvador Garcia Ruiz's PAPER CASTLES

PAPER CASTLES (Castillos de cartón), the new film directed by Salvador García Ruiz (shown just below) and written by Enrique Urbizu (from the novel by Almudena Grandes is so startlingly in-the-moment -- about youth, sex and art, among other topics -- that it quite literally sneaks up on you and may be over before you realize what it has accomplished. Taking place in a Spanish art academy, it looks over the student body very briefly before coming to rest on three individuals: María José (known affectionately as simply Jose and played by Adriana Ugarte, shown two photos down), Marcos (Nilo Mur, shown second photo from bottom) and Jaime (Biel Durán, shown just below).

These three connect one day -- flirting, talking, laughing -- over a table with other students and the two boys (roommates, along with a couple of other guys) bring Jose home with them, and more talk, laughter and finally sex ensues. This first lengthy scene in the film is so specifically rendered and so absolutely right in terms of moment-to-moment life regarding dialog, emotions, even the silly, crazy laughter than dogs the three that -- though the sex begins between Jose and Marcos but is finished by Jose and Jaime -- it is all so believable and honest that I suspect you will accept it without question.

These kids love art -- they're good at it, too -- and eventually they come to love each other. How this happens and why (we don't really know the whole story until the end) makes up the hundred minutes of the filmmakers' tale, and it is such a good one, told with beauty, pace and nearly tactile emotion that it does not compare with any other "threesome" film I can recall. Not with the very good American film of that name by Andrew Fleming, not the interesting French movie Cold Showers, and not even the other "threesome" tale in the year's Spanish Cinema Now series, Mediterranean Food, which I'll cover later today.

The art angle is one major reason for the film's success. These three kids look at art often, talk about it, and most of all create it. It's a major part of their life, and we enter their life through it. Youth is another reason, and Paper Castles captures this in all its alternately joyful/sad/crazy vivacity. The three are given to the giggles periodically, and though we may not understand what is setting them off, their behavior is so specific and fully realized, that we buy into their laughter and enjoy it. Sex is the other reason. Spain, since Franco's death and fascism's diminution, has been in the forefront of the sexual revolution, at least as far as its films are concerned. And this movie takes us yet one more step -- not in terms of the sex itself or by showing us "more." The movie is plenty open, with full-frontal and various couplings, but what sets it apart is its emotional factor. What these kids are feeling is beautifully captured at every point along the way. Because the emotions ring true, along with the dialog, we buy into the reality of what is going on. The performances are a huge help, too. All three actors are on target at all times.

We see more of Jose's family life than that of the two boys; toward the finale we meet Marcos' parents, but of Jaime we learn almost nothing. This works well, and helps build to an extremely intelligent, affecting conclusion. Along whatever paths life takes these three, they will certainly remember each other.
And we will remember them.

Paper Castles plays only one more time at the Walter Reader Theater: tomorrow night, Saturday, December 12, at 9:20.

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