Sunday, May 9, 2010

Antonio Banderas' choice retrospective, Realism in the Spanish Cinema (1951-1963) opens tomorrow at Instituto Cervantes! Banderas to appear in person

A terrific, inclusive program of films from Spain, Realism in Spanish Cinema, little seen here in America and representing the post-WWII period of Spanish cinema under the fascist dictator Francisco Franco, is having a nine-day run at one of of Manhattan's least discovered treasures, Instituto Cervantes at Amster Yard, 211-215 East 49th Street, starting tomorrow, Monday, May 10.

This is a program based upon an original idea by Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, who is also a member of the advisory board of Instituto Cervantes, New York. All the films are in the Spanish language with English subtitles, and each will screen once only, beginning with the opening night selection, Monday, May 10, at 6pm -- at which Señor Banderas is said to be attending the opening night festivities in person.  And admission is free.

The importance of these films cannot be underestimated, I think, because of our need (and the films' ability) to keep history alive.  As with the everything from the the Third Reich/Holocaust to more recent events in Rwanda and Bosnia, and (more in keeping with Spanish history), Pinochet in Chile or the "disappeared" in Argentina, the collective memory of countries under dictatorship, be it from the right or the left, must be kept alive, and at a conscious level.  Movies, among the most sought-after forms of popular entertainment, provide a most memorable way to accomplish this, as Banderas' series should demonstrate well.

Spain under Franco (though there remain today some of its citizens who would prefer to see a return the dictator's policies) was a country divided against itself ever since this dictator, together with his military, attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government, resulting in the Spanish Civil War, which lasted almost three years (1936-39) and ended with Franco taking power and ruling with an iron first for nearly forty years.  This was a time when it might have appeared to the outside world that Spain was a "free" country, but imprisonment and torture for those who did not play follow-the-leader was not unheard of.  The films of the time mirror this repression, even if they cannot speak of it openly.  In some ways, Spanish cinema resembles that of the Eastern European countries under Communism.  While their filmmakers' looks at politics, mores and repression of the time had to be "coded," this inability to speak openly led to some wonderful examples of subtle, thoughtful and meaningful movie-making.

At this point I have seen only one of the ten films in this series: the interesting Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista), by Juan Antonio Bardem, which exhibits all of the qualities mentioned above and was also known -- stupidly -- as its English-language title as Age of Infidelity (adultery sells tickets, right?).  But I hope to catch a few more in the ten days to come (the program runs through Wednesday, May 19). The series begins Monday, May 10, at 6pm with Furrows (Surcos) from 1951 and which Señor Banderas himself will introduce. Here's the film's synopsis provided by Instituto Cervantes:

DIRECTOR / DIRECTOR: José Antonio Nieves Conde PAÍS / COUNTRY: España AÑO / YEAR: 1951 DURACIÓN / RUNNING TIME: 99 min. REPARTO / CAST: Luis Peña, María Asquerino, Francisco Arenzana, Marisa de Leza, Ricardo Lucía, José Prada, Félix Dafauce, María Francés, Maruja Díaz, Félix Briones, Casimiro Hurtado, José Guardiola, Manuel de Juan, Ramón Elías, José Sepúlveda GUIÓN / SCRIPT: José Antonio Nieves Conde, Natividad Zaro, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester MÚSICA / MUSIC: Jesús García Leoz FOTOGRAFÍA / PHOTOGRAPHY: Sebastián Perera PRODUCCIÓN / PRODUCER: Atenea Films S. L.

The Pérez family, consisting of a couple in their sixties and their three kids, dream of improving their quality of life by moving to the capital. They attempt to put their grueling country life behind them at an extremely difficult moment in Spanish History. The family are quite hard-up but they manage to find a place to stay in Madrid thanks to Pili (an old friend of their eldest son), who takes them into her house for a fixed rate. Every day they spend in Madrid becomes a failed attempt in survival. The characters have to face an internal struggle that will contribute to extinguishing the idea of well-being and abundance that they had associated with life in the big city without an empirical basis; an idea based on the rumors that reached the village. Consequently, their attempt to prosper honestly is reduced to a failed project that toys with the characters’ psychology and, in a way, ends us corrupting them. The reality of Madrid in the Fifties was nothing like what they expected: blue-collar neighborhoods packed with workers, with insufficient resources, where the black market and delinquency became the staples of everyday life, which everyone inevitably turned to sooner or later to survive.

Also on the agenda -- which includes Buñuel's Viridiana (Monday, May 17, at 6pm) and an early Saura  (The Rascals, shown above, Sunday, May 16, at 6pm) -- is a second film by Juan Antonio Bardem, Main Street (Calle Mayor), with Betsy Blair, which is a film I have heard about for years but never had the opportunity to see (Friday, May 14, at 5pm).  The whole schedule looks enticing (you can find it, I am told, posted at this Facebook link).  Would there were more time in the world, and we'd be able to see them all.

Below is the IC synopsis of Main Street, also known as The Lovemaker -- another typically crass title- change of the time (1956) geared to lasso an American audience.

Calle Mayor
The lovemaker
DIRECTOR / DIRECTOR: Juan Antonio Bardem PAÍS / COUNTRY: España AÑO / YEAR: 1956 DURACIÓN / RUNNING TIME: 95 min. REPARTO / CAST: Betsy Blair, José Suárez, Yves Massard, Luis Peña, Dora Doll, Alfonso Godá, Manuel Alexandre GUIÓN / SCRIPT: Juan Antonio Bardem (Play: Carlos Arniches) MÚSICA / MUSIC: Joseph Kosma & Isidro B. Maiztegui FOTOGRAFÍA / PHOTOGRAPHY: Michel Kelber PRODUCCIÓN / PRODUCER: Spanish-French Coproduction; Suevia Films / Play Art / Iberia Films

This is the story of a group of friends from a provincial city in the Fifties who play tricks on each other to while away their boredom. One of them, Juan, pretends to have fallen in love with Isabel, a beautiful 35-year-old who’s fated to become an old maid. She gets all excited and acts like a teenager when she realizes someone has fallen in love with her. Things get more and more intense until Juan finds himself caught in his own trap.

All the screenings are free, and a flyer with the complete program is available at the Instituto Cervantes.

No comments: