Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Incest at SCN: Montxo Armedáriz's DON'T BE AFRAID explores a painful subject well

During last year's SCN an unusual and upsetting film, Elisa K, explored child abuse clinically but with great feeling for the abused. This year's "abuse" movie goes it one better, dealing as it does with father-daughter incest. While not handled as exceptionally as did the Elisa K filmmakers in presenting their work (this is simply a more conventional movie), DON'T BE AFRAID nonethe-less tackles its sub-ject head-on and with enough context to make it live and breathe.

Writer/director Montxo Armedáriz (Silencio Roto, Obaba), shown at left, doesn't make a lot of movies (nine full-length films over 27 years), but his output is varied and interesting, and this new film fills the bill as well as any of them have done. Armedáriz's movie presents the problem with enough detail and from several viewpoints to allow us to form it into a whole. The filmmaker shows how this kind of thing happens; how, even when the other parent gets wind of it, it can be ignored; and how the situation engenders the kind of soul-crushing weight that make its recipient struggle many times harder than do the rest of us toward autonomy.

By the by, it also gives three of Spain's very fine actors -- two of the older generation and one from the new -- the chance to spread their wings and fly in unusual directions. The wonderful Lluís Homar (skating, above right, and seen last year as the gay father figure in Paper Birds and as the long suffering husband to the title character in Julia's Eyes), once again does a sterling job -- this time as the sad and awful abuser.

As the even worse-on-some-level mother, who refuses to believe or help her daughter, Belén Rueda (above, right, from The Orphanage and Julia in Julia's Eyes) scores again. To watch her not "get it," over and over again, is to take an acting class from a pro. In the role(s) of Silvia, the abused girl, Iranzu Erro (skating, center, two photos above), in her debut as the younger Sylvia, is excellent in demonstrating just enough confusion and fear to trouble us, if not her mom. As the older Silvia, Michelle Jenner (above, left & below, who is so very good as the delightfully confused adulteress in this year's Extraterrestrial) offers an alternately sad and jolting portrait of abuse taken in and then spat out in bizarre ways. This young actress, unrecognizable from this role to the other, is one to watch!

In a movie such as this, the audience desperately want some succor for the heroine. As it goes along, Armedáriz's movie is very good about making it clear that this help is not easily obtained. When it comes, haltingly in dribs and drabs, it seems very real and not necessarily certain. However, at the conclusion, the director opts for a little too much, too soon and too easy. Up to that final point, however, Don't Be Afraid is a stirring, harrowing piece of filmmaking.

Don't Be Afraid, part of the Spanish Cinema Now series, will screen twice only at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, Dec. 9, at 9:15pm and Tues., Dec. 13, at 8:10pm.

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