Friday, December 14, 2012

SCN: Imanol Uribe's ORANGE HONEY does smalltown Spain under Franco in the 1950s

How beautiful is it all -- the architec-ture, the village, the mountains, and the attractive men and women -- in the small Spanish town shown us by noted director Imanol Uribe (Plenilune, Dias Contados) is his latest film ORANGE HONEY (Miel de naranjas). Even the local mental hospital looks a treat. But, yes, this is Spain in the 1950s, under the thumb of Francisco Franco, and so all that beauty is ironically deceptive. Not to mention that just outside the town is one of Franco's many prisons where political prisoners are held and quite often executed on the dusty plain nearby.

The "look" of this movie seems as impeccable as it is beautiful. The period -- as expressed via fashions, automobiles and props such as vintage sewing and mimeograph machines -- is exquisitely re-produced. And if you think I am but leading up to the fact that the film itself it not very good... wrong! Senor Uribe, shown at left, has done his usual, carefully controlled job of movie-making that results in an enjoyable wartime melodrama that is part thriller, part romance, part political/historical film, part family saga and most especially a movie about fascism's throttle-hold on human behavior and how it subverts even the good in that behavior to something evil. In its quiet and strangely all-encompassing manner, Orange Honey is surprisingly impressive.

The story tracks Enrique (Iban Garate), shown above, a young and naive soldier in Franco's army, working under a military judge, Don Eladio (Karra Elejalde, below, right) who is always quick to condemn each political case to the firing squad. Enrique is also the more-or-less approved paramour of Eladio's niece (the lovely Blanca Suárez, below and in photo at bottom) and so is soon pulled in two directions by his love and his horror of the death after death he witnesses.

Enrique's mentally and physically infirm mother (the still-beautiful and resounding Ángela Molina, shown below, right) resides in the local hospital/sanitarium, where he visits often. When her psychiatrist is arrested on political charges, events come to a boil, and from there, the movie charges ahead -- albeit slowly, carefully -- until all sorts of thrills, suspense and surprise spill out.

Possible spoiler ahead: If what we see here is to be believed, every second or third Spaniard was part of the resistance to the Franco regime -- including even military men! (This may remind you of what we're getting from French movies regarding the French Resistance during WWII.) True or not, this makes Orange Honey all that much more surprising and thrilling. The most suspenseful scene has to do with an escape by auto of a important political prisoner, the son of the titular "Honey" (shown above) -- a code name for one of the female resistance fighters.

Overall, I found this film a more enjoyable outing than this director's earlier effort with a similar theme, Carol's Journey, which proved more ambitious but less successful because Uribe bit off more than he could properly chew. Here he chews, masticates then spits out a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable melodrama that manages to show us how difficult it was (still is, of course) serving a corrupt dictator while trying to maintain some self-respect.

Orange Honey will play again at Spanish Cinema Now this Saturday, December 15, at 7:30pm. Click the link above to see all of this series -- what's already played and what's to come -- then click here for tickets to this film....

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