Sunday, December 4, 2011

SCN: Carlos Iglesias' ISPANSI! tells a Spanish Civil War tale we haven't heard

Last year SCN offered one of those rich, wonderful stories of the Spanish Civil War -- Paper Birds (Pajaros de papel) that showed us something different and bracing, even if it was decked out in melodramatic (but fine) style. This year's selection that best fits that bill is the terrific movie by and starring Carlos Iglesias -- ISPANSI!, which I am guessing is Russian for "the Spanish!" and which tells a story I had never heard -- about the hordes of children sent to Russia for their safety by the anti-Franco Republicans during the Civil War. What a tale it proves to be, and how splendidly has its writer/director/lead actor Iglesias (shown below) managed to create and execute it.

The filmmaker tosses us into the thick of things immediately, introducing characters we will only slowly know and understand. He then backtracks to the past, showing us how they got into this strange place, and then carries them forward into, well, you can hardly imagine the ins and outs and ups and downs you're about to experience. Though this is a tale of children, Iglesias wisely makes it a love story, too -- but one that take ever so long to flame. For quite some time we don't even know that it is, or will be, a love story. Yet by the time it  explodes, we are already completely in its grasp.

That the love story is between a Republican worker/fighter and a upper-class woman from a Franco-phile family makes it all the more bizarre and vital, and the two actors -- Iglesias and Esther Regina (above, right,and from last year's The Consul of Sodom) could hardly be better.

What the movie tells us, among many other worthwhile things, is how pure, physical attraction can pave the road to a relationship that will change what we might have imagined were unchangeable basics of character and class.

Iglesias takes us from the Franco forces to the Russians to the Germans and back again, as our small party grows smaller as it escapes, barely, from one bad situation to another, with some lovely, much-needed respite now and then. We see and hear the wealthy of Franco's Spain (two photos above, and the one below) as well as near-poverty of post-war Russia. And we feel the loss of a child that, despite all else, never heals.

This is a rich, often very beautiful-to-view movie, filled with great characters and a cast of remarkable actors who can bring them to life. It's got history, politics, love, death, sacrifice and just about everything else that makes a memorable, old-fashioned blockbuster. While watching the film, I could not help but wonder if, in its way, the movie might have gone some distance in uniting today's Spain. Except that the populace just elected another right-wing regime, so perhaps it is being united in the wrong direction. Once again.

I don't know that this film has any U.S. distribution yet, and it's playing only once during Spanish Cinema Now: Friday, December 9 at 1pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater. So if this kind of movie is your cup of tea, do not miss Ispansi! 

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