Saturday, December 18, 2010

SCN: Static art from Lluís Galter in his fledgling film CARACREMADA

For a first-time filmmaker, writer/
director Lluís Galter (shown below) gets a lot of mileage out of quiet, self-contained cinematog-raphy in which each shot acts as exposi-tion.  The composition of this artful photog-raphy (the cinematog-rapher is another first-timer, Jordi Figueras) is both beautiful and severe, and initially this art pulled TrustMovies into the film and held him. For awhile. CARACREMADA, the title of Galter's movie, doubles as the nickname given by the Spanish Civil Guard (Franco's fascist-leaning police force) to the film's leading character, Ramon Vila Capdevila, a resistence fighter who remained one well after the Spanish Civil War was over and a nasty "peace" reigned over the land.

None of this information about Capdevila/Caracremada is spelled out anywhere that I could see in the movie itself.  (I thought Caracremada referred to the impressive mountain area where the film takes place).  Instead I learned the information via Google, once I returned home from the screening. Galter gives us some initial titles cards that offer background info on how certain resistance fighters continued to resist long after the war itself. But just Googling the name of Capdevila and reading the first paragraph about him proved a goldmine of information that had me wanting even more. (How, for instance, the man received his prominent facial scar: Caracremada evidently means "Burned Face" in the Catalan language.)

The writer/director wants instead to grab us via artful images. His movie offers very little dialog (as would be true in the solitary life of one of these resistance fighters). Consequently, when a pile of it does appear -- Ramon (played by Lluís Soler, above) offering a young acolyte a speech about the good old days -- this seems so obvious, if bizarrely chosen by the filmmaker, that you almost wish that Galter had stuck with no dialog at all.

Instead Galter sets up many of his scenes with initial, nicely framed visuals (the gun above, or the hacksaw below) and then uses ambient sound and sound effects to create -- quite economically, I suspect -- the happenings that occur along the way: a resistance/terrorist explosion, an execution by the Civil Guards, the taking down of an electrical tower, and so forth.

Some of the questions that crop up as we watch (why is Ramon wearing that rope around his wrist)? are answered handily enough (so that he is never separated from his revolver). Some of the visual details seem out of place, however: I don't think that the electrical towers we see are appropriate for their time period (the film takes place in three separate decades: 1946, 1951 and 1961).

The life of this resistance fighter is shown in some painstaking detail -- from cleaning old shoes to burying potatoes for further farming down the line -- and the immense dedication to the "cause" is something worth pondering, though the movie itself accepts it at face value and without explanation. Spaniards, particularly the older set who went through the Civil War and the long Franco aftermath, will probably cotton to (or against) this attitude more easily than Americans.

Caracremada is a slow movie, but for much of its running time, it's quite watchable. Galter has chosen interesting faces, beginning with Soler's and that of the young girl (above) who may or may not grow into the young woman resistance fighter we see in the latter portion of the film (below).

One of the more obvious, if moving, scenes shows one of Ramon's compatriots (below) captured and knowing he will be forced to give information on the whereabouts of his friend.

The views of the rugged and imposing landscape -- such as the one shown below -- are indeed beautiful, but as the film moves slowly along, a static quality sets in, and I began to crave more. More dialog, and especially more incidents chosen for the way that they might reveal character and motivation and thus engender a little empathy and understanding. But this was not to be. In content, the movie feels like a short, yet it goes on for 98 minutes. That was too long a time for me, but perhaps you'll do better by it.

Caracremada plays once more at the Walter Reade Theater during Spanish Cinema Now: Tuesday, December 21 at 3:15.  The film does not seem to me the kind of movie that U.S. distributors will be knocking down doors to grab, but you never know: It could turn up eventually on DVD.

Check out the remaining SCN schedule here.

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