Sunday, December 19, 2010

SCN: 80 DAYS from Jon Garaño & José Mari Goenaga explores Spain's geriatric Basques

Do we grow wiser as we grow older? asks the new film 80 DAYS (80 egunean) -- and then answers it with a "no." Yet the movie itself is anything but a negative experi-ence, as it tells the tale of two senior women who meet again by chance nearly a half-century after their initial friendship. The co-writers/directors -- Jon Garaño and José Mari Goenaga (shown below with Garaño on the left) -- begin their film by introducing us to a man and a woman in a car who are clearly having a terrible day.  The woman, in tears, seems inconsolable; the man, driving, appears (as men often do in this situation) elsewhere, unreadable.

Something happens -- and that's the last we see of either of the two (except for one, lying comatose on a hospital bed). This is the event that brings the two older women together, yet the film-makers very smartly make their opening so rich in feeling and possibility, and so well-filmed and acted,  that were the movie to have been about the pair in the car, we'd gladly have gone along.

Instead, it's about Axun (Itziar Aizpuru, shown above, left) and Maite (Mariasun Pagoaga, above, right) and how they meet again, discover their past connection and forge ahead with their future, such as it is. Maite is a lesbian who has had a fine career in teaching music from which she is about to retire. Axun is comfortably if not happily married to Juan Mari (José Ramón Argoitia, below -- rather like a Spanish Ed Asner) and they have a daughter living in California who seems to have deliberately put a lot of distance between herself and her parents. Well before the film ends we begin to understand just why.

As the relationship between the two women slowly grows stronger, this brings change to every other area of their lives, and the filmmakers do a fine job -- precise and consistently real -- of demonstrating how this happens. Every major character introduced to us -- the couple's niece, the head of the school where Maite works -- comes to appealing life. As to the budding relationship, it stops and starts and may not necessarily go where you initially imagine. Where it does go seems surprisingly correct, given the psychology of the characters on view.

The three leads are all you could ask for, and while Ms Aizpuru and Señor Argoitia are seasoned performers, this is the first film for Ms Pagoaga, and she rises to the occasion like a pro. Don't expect the kind of in-your-face nudity and sex that a movie like last year's excellent Cloud 9 provided; 80 Days is much more chaste. In this case, the filmmakers have made a wise decision, as the intimacy, veiled as it is, fits its characters (as well as the time and place) quite well.

80 Days is a film that ought to appeal greatly to mature audiences (even young audiences who possess some maturity may better understand their parents after a viewing). While the LGBT crowd would seem a natural fit for the film, it, too, will need a little maturity of viewpoint to best appreciate the movie: This is no knee-jerk, feel-good lesbian tale.

Screening one more time at SCN, 80 Days will play at the Walter Reade on Tuesday December 21 at 7:15. See the complete/
remaining Spanish Cinema Now program here.

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