Wednesday, December 19, 2012

SCN: CARMINA OR BLOW UP--Paco León's unique celebration of a con-artist mother

TrustMovies needed to find a film among the recent Spanish Cinema Now batch to which he could take a very elderly, long-time friend who detests violent and/or hard-to-follow movies. From the press description of CARMINA OR BLOW UP -- "picaresque comedy," "love letter to mother" -- it sounded like it might do the trick. Yikes! But my friend was a good sport, and actually found the movie so unusual that she was relatively fascinated. She used to go to Spain yearly on business, staying in the better hotels and dining out in nice restaurants. "But I never," she explained with some surprise, "met anyone like this!"

Nor have I. Here we are on one of the lower economic rungs of the Spain's 99 per cent, with a woman who is said to be the director's mother. Or maybe an actress playing his mother, or maybe his mother playing a character somewhat like his mother -- for this is one of those new hybrids, a mish-mash of documentary and/or narrative, that combines, well, whatever works. Gloriously, almost everything here does.

Starting with the lead actress, a bundle of energy and quirks who goes by the name of Carmina Barrios, the movie marshals an array of smart, specific, bizarre performers and situations that bounce off each other and build to a hilarious and somehow just conclusion -- in the face of the fact that Carmina herself is a world-class scam artist who just wants to take care of herself, her family and friends.

These include the folk pictured above and below, beginning with her daughter, María León, presumably the sister of the filmmaker, a certain Paco León, who is shown above with his sis and "mom," and below with only "mom."

To call this guy a born filmmaker would seem too obvious; he's that and more -- if this near-sui generis movie is any indication. He and his cast grab us from the outset, particularly the zoftig leading lady who possesses such energy and certainty that she figuratively, sometimes literally, mows down all obstacles in her quest to provide sustenance for a confirmation/family reunion (below).

These would include her insurance adjuster, a bill collector, even some juvenile delinquents who steal the family truck, not to mention us poor viewers who are but putty in her very strong hands. The plot, if you can quite call it that, takes us back about a month from the movie's socko beginning, where Carmina sits at her kitchen table and simply fills us in on some history.

Then we move ahead in increments, as we learn more about the several robberies that have occurred of late at the family-owned bar. Seems Carmina and her husband, below, are having trouble paying their bills. How they finally surmount this becomes pretty much the gist of the film, as Señor León uses everything from fun visuals (above) to crazy characters performed to a tee in order to create this amazing and vital world.

Special attention is given to the hams (below) that are needed to feed the party. How Carmina gets these -- and ends up paying her bills -- is the best joke of them all.

Running only 70 minutes, all of them put to good use,  León's movie is short, swift and lively as hell. It played but once at this year's Spanish Cinema Now, but it will surely be seen again -- if only as a kind of calling card announcing, "Hey, movie world, I've arrived." Has he ever!

No comments: