Friday, December 4, 2009

Odd, Chilling, Mysterious and Unique -- Gabe Ibáñez's HIERRO debuts at SCN

We know we're somewhere weird as, in the very first shot of Gabe Ibáñez's dazzling HIERRO, a giant lizard crosses the road and a car zooms over it. From the looks of things, a distraught mother is driving too fast with her son beside her and very soon we are treated to one of, maybe the best cinema car crash TrustMovies has yet witnessed. No, it's not complete with huge explosions and muchos effectos

. Instead Señor Ibáñez (shown at right) simply shoots superbly, edits with such precision and uses sound for all its worth that we're there inside the car with the vulnerable pair experiencing every jolt and smash and roll that ends with -- oh, god -- a moment of such odd silence and beauty, and then...

OK: after the fact, I ques-
tioned that the smaller object would have landed prior to the larger, but maybe I don't know my math or physics. But I do know my cinema and this is superb stuff. So's the location. The director and his writers -- Javier Gullón (who wrote last years terrific El rey de la montaña) and Jesus de la Vega -- have set this tale on El Hierro Island, the southernmost point of Europe, where black beaches of volcanic ash and those giant lizards provide the kind of bizarre backdrop that all the money and CGI in the world could serve up no better.

The story is that of a young marine biologist and single mother (her best friend and co-worker calls her "strange") and her son, who head off the to the island for a work project, but before they arrive -- whoops. No more plot. Find out for yourself. I will say that the FSLC Program notes (the film opens tomorrow as part of the yearly Spanish Cinema Now series) got it wrong: No "wave" of anything "goes missing" on Hierro. Only two. However, the two are vital to those who miss them. The filmmakers sustain their 90 minutes extremely well; while they serve up only a touch of blood and corpse-gore, there's plenty of surprise, shock, suspense and other things we enjoy with our mysteries. The water motif is ever-pre-
sent, with a bird motif not far behind; both are used with great imagination & feeling in the film's real & in its dreamlike moments.

I do wish the moviemakers had thought a bit harder about one particular plot point: the dog. It is present so often until the one scene in which it absolutely must be there. And, then? What's up, boys -- did someone drop the ball? Otherwise, their movie is a treat, and so is Elena Anaya (above), the very thin but voluptuous leading lady who is also a fine actress. I'm primed for whatever these guys cook up next. I should also mention that the crack cinematography and editing are by Alejandro Martínez and Enrique Garcia respectively. Hierro screens at the Walter Reade on Friday, December 4, at 4:30 and Sunday, December 6, at 5:10.

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