Monday, December 21, 2009

SCN: Isona Passola's CATALONIA VS SPAIN -- plus a quick post-series round-up

TrustMovies would not have imagined that a documentary about the conflict between Spain and one of her "nation-states," Catalonia, would make such a fitting end for this year's FSLC series Spanish Cinema Now. But there it is. This short film (75 minutes, including credits) should pretty consistently hold you rapt, even if, as was my case, you know little to nothing about the conflict between the mother country and one of her pieces. (And here I thought that most of the Spain's problems had to do with the ETA, Cantabria and Basque Country separatists.)

In CATALONIA VS SPAIN (Cataluña Espanya), writer (with Joan Dolç) and director
Isona Passola (shown above) interviews a large and diverse bunch of talking heads to get at the problems of why, in the words of several of the interviewees, Catalonia keeps complaining so much and so often. Seems to this viewer, at least, that it have a lot to complain about -- including, as early members of a certain other nation once noted, "taxation without representation." Though in Catalunya, it seems to be more a matter of not enough representation.

There's also a language problem: Catalan or Spanish, how these are taught and accepted has long been a thorn in the side of most Catalans. (There's even a little goofing on the language "barrier" in the deliberately misspelled title of the movie.) Land -- who owns it and why (the Duchess of Alba, and not the Goya version, comes up during this section!) -- also figures in the equation, as do things like the country's current Constitution (it's a bad one, some say); the lack of proper transportation in and out of a hugely important and major city like Barcelona (no major airport, a fast train (shown below) that took ages to get into operation); even culture itself is slammed around. Posited here: Catalonia has its own special cul-
ture, while Madrid does not. On that last point, I would have to agree: one of the few films in the current series to deal with Cata-
lunya (Little Indi) is set in the region and indeed seems to sport a culture so different it could be taking place in another country.

In its short running time, Catalonia vs Spain crams in, by my count, some 27 different speakers (one is shown two photos above, another just below), many of whom appear again and again. Yet what they all have to say seems interesting and germane, so listening to them and trying to sort out their meanings proves salutary. Unfortunately, for non-Spanish- (let alone non-Catalan-) speaking folk like me, the movie's subtitles-upon-subtitles (one set to identify the current speaker, another to translate what that speaker is saying) is often daunting. I'm sure I missed a number of points along the way. Yet I did retain enough to realize the prob-
lems here and to have some hope that over time they'll be righted.

Ms Pasolla, a Catalan filmmaker, uses brisk pacing and a sense of humor; her take on all this seems one of amused, ironic anger, as seen in the charming-and-a-little-nasty, semi-animated credit sequence that opens and closes her film. For an American, this smart little movie offers a respite from watching and listening to our own crass and catbird-seated politicians dither and destroy-by-bits a possible health care initiative (Spain, of course, offers it populace health care), after following our former, unlamented administration into two stupid and mishandled trillion-dollar wars. (Spain, then under its right-leaning leader, followed us the the middle east, suffered its own terrorist attack, and quickly ditched that regime for one that's more Socialist-- several years and another election before we managed the same smart trick.)


Another SCN series has drawn to a close, and after viewing 17 new films and one program of shorts, I'm sorry to see it go. If the ETA, which last year themed two of the series' better films, was present only as hostage bargaining chips in the terrific prison movie Cell 211, there was still plenty of ideas about Spain today to capture our attention. More than 30 years have passed since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and the country he ruled via torture and an iron fist is now yet another of the world's troubled democracies. Watching, via the SCN films, this country come to terms with continuing growth and change is, as usual, enlightening and disturbing, humorous and sad.

In terms of quality, this year proved one of, maybe the best I can recall: only two losers in the pack (The Dancer and the Thief and A Good Man, with the latter, according to another attendee I spoke with, "the best film in the festival." Go figure.) The remainder ranged from Don't-Miss status (Bloody May, Camino, Cell 211, Woman Without Piano) to plain excellent (The Good News, Gordos, Mediterranean Food, Paper Castles, The Shame, Stigmata) to very much worth seeing (Catalonia vs Spain, The Condemned, Hierro, Little Indi, V.O.S. and the shorts program).

Why, you may have asked, does TrustMovies spend so much time on a festival that can only be seen by New Yorkers (or those film buffs located in the tri-state are), the movies of which will likely not be shown again? It's partly because most of these movies, as good as they are, may not appear on these shores again. Yet they deserve to be seen, talked about and written about -- even if only as a record that, hey, they were here! Maybe, with any luck they will find their way to DVD or cable, and seeing their titles, you'll remember that you read about them, wanted to see them, and so will take a look.... Let's hope.

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