Saturday, December 17, 2011

SCN: Mireia Ros' BARCELONA BEFORE--another knock-out documentary hybrid

One of the jewels of this year's Spanish Cinema Now unfortunately received only a single showing last week, so TrustMovies is awfully happy he managed to get to it. Based upon the book by F. Javier Baladía, and, in a sense, starring the handsome writer (shown below), BARCELONA BEFORE is one of those fascinating hybrid documen-taries we're seeing ever more frequen-tly, each one as different as the one that came just before.

In this film, Señor Baladía introduces us to his extended family of ancestors and in doing so takes us into the environs of the Spanish city of Barcelona at the turn of the 20th Century. What a bunch they were -- and what a movie has now been made about them! The film's director is a young woman named Mireia Ros (shown below), a Catalan actress who has expanded her reach into direc-ting and editing.

Ms Ros edited this film, in fact, and a splendid job of it she has done, melding past with present, sometimes in the most delicious manner. Speaking of delicious, her movie begins with a wartime potato recipe that slowly blossoms into something colorful, stylish and joyous, setting the program and the pace for what we're about to see. For his book and now for the movie, Baladía appears to have unearthed a trove of wondrous archival photos that help bring to life the age and the personages of time past, and how Ros handles all of this is, I think, rather exceptional.

The filmmaker manages to make the rooms of the house almost live and breathe: Some of the photography -- and what she does with it or maybe to it -- seems extraordinary. And when we begin to hear about Baladía's progenitors, oh, boy! These are people who lived. Granted, they were wealthy (how some of them came by their money -- spring water and farting goats -- is more interesting that many other success stories you may have heard), and living, of course, is a lot easier with some wealth behind it. At times, so rich and energized is the combination of ravishing visuals and smart, "felt" narration, that you may feel a sudden and enormous desire to pick yourself up and do some living of your own.

The movie is full of anecdotes, many of them quite amusing and occasionally moving enough to bring a tear to your eye. What we do not get is any sense of the underclass of the time, except when one of the family members (in the white coat, above) goes out "slumming." This lady had an eye -- and perhaps other body parts -- for the local sailors. There is plenty of irony here, too, especially in terms of the family's legacy.

It is difficult to imagine that a film this unusual and worthwhile will not have an afterlife theatrically, or via DVD and VOD.  You needn't be Spanish to be able to appreciate this story or the gilded epoch in which it takes place. So be on the lookout for Barcelona Before (its original Catalan title is Barcelona, abans que el temps ho esborri). Should you see it in available in any manner whatsoever, pounce!

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