Saturday, September 29, 2018

A six-film round-up of some classy Spanish cinema -- available via Netflix streaming

Spanish-language cinema, especially that from Spain itself, is increasingly well-represented by Netflix. Currently there are a dozen good movies available to view, and probably twice (maybe thrice) that number of smart, enjoyable television series, as well. Herewith: a quick round-up of half a dozen of the better films.

Manuel Martín Cuenca's THE MOTIVE, which he directed and co-adapted from the novel by Javier Cercas, has won a pile of deserved awards in its homeland and elsewhere. It's a dark, ironic comedy about the need to create -- even amongst folk who have no real talent for this -- especially one middle-aged fellow (the wonderful Javier Gutiérrez, shown at left) taking a creative writing course (Antonio de la Torre, below, left, plays his teacher) who wants desperately to write a great novel because his wife (María León, below, right) has just published a popular best-seller.

How he goes about this is alternately hilarious and horrible, involving especially his new neighbors (once he has moved out on his wife) and what he imagines is the "right" way to create. You won't know just where this film is going (until the very end) but you should have no trouble sticking with it -- so astute, funny and often remarkable are the visuals, dialog and performances. Movies like this one come along rarely, so while The Motive remains available on Netflix, pounce!

The crime thriller, PERDIDA, hits just about every typical situation and plot point from the last decade or so of mystery movies and television series, from mobsters, murders and disappearances to, yes, sex  trafficking. Yet thanks to smart pacing, decent direction (Alejandro Montiel), a very nicely woven story that involves past, present and a cold case that one particular female officer refuses to let die -- and to some strikingly beautiful cinematography and composition -- the movie is a nonstop pleasure to view.

The cast in peppered with a wealth of attractive, talented performancer, with the the leading role played by Luisana Lopilato (above), an Argentine actress (the movie's a co-production of Argentina and Spain and was filmed in the gorgeous/harsh Patagonia region of South America). Perdida translates to English as "lost," and just about everyone and everything in this dark and unsettling movie ends up that way.

A very odd mix of the mythic, majestic and monotonous, THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN is another murder mystery involving a serial killer set in Basque country, featuring a female police inspector (Marta Etura) called in to track the killer in a community that doubles as her home town. The movie, directed by Fernando González Molina, is yet another that is often so beautiful to watch, as it ambles along, that some viewers (TrustMovies, for one) won't mind the longueurs.

The film is full of dark family matters (you'll meet maybe the most wretched movie mother of all time), the awful past and not-so-hot present, as events bubble up and begin to coalesce. The supporting cast is aces, with the impressive Elvia Mínguez (above) especially good as our heroine's older, nastier sister. I do wish the filmmaker has been better able to balance the disparate elements with a much less heavy hand. The movie often clunks along, with that title character always hovering rather tiresomely in the background (and sometimes the foreground). Still, The Invisible Guardian provides at least enough occasional fun and dark beauty to be worth a watch by those who enjoy mysteries set in fairly exotic locales.

Much, much better is the second film with the word "invisible" in its title, THE INVISIBLE GUEST, which is yet another murder mystery -- but it's an exceptionally elegant one. The film, directed and co-written by Oriol Paulo (The Body, Julia's Eyes) is full of twists and turns as our protagonist, played by the sexy, smoldering Mario Casas (see The Skin of the Wolf, below) struggles to free himself from being railroaded into a murder rap. Aided and/or blocked by other major characters, including his lover (another terrific turn by Bárbara Lennie, below, left) and a high-powered, uber-intelligent lawyer (the unforgettable Ana Wagener), our boy struggles but gamely soldiers on.

This movie may be every bit as manipulative as was The Body, but here, because the film is all about manipulation, the twists and turns seem not only appropriate but enormous fun. Performances are excellent, and so is the cinematography, locations, and just about all else. And the ending, unlike so many would-be mysteries, proves incredibly satisfying, too.

Everything from reincarnation to numerology, murder, parenting, the otherworldly and so much more join forces in THE WARNING, the very odd mix of the mysterious and sentimental from director Daniel Calparsoro.

Because its star, Raúl Arévalo (shown at left), is one of my favorite Spanish actors, I'll see anything in which he stars, and this film was certainly not difficult to sit through. By turns thrilling, shocking, moving and very weird, it manages to build quite a head of steam before reaching its maybe-not-so-effective finale.

Taking place in very different time periods that seem to be united via location and a murder that occurs there periodically, the movie bites off more than it can conveniently chew. Yet the provoking puzzle it puts forth should pull you in nicely and keep you interested and alert throughout. One of the veins the movie skillfully mines is that of parents who try to help their children overcome fears by forcing the kids to face these head on. Easier said than sometimes done, it turns out. The Warning may not be a great film, but it is an effective "grabber."

Mario Casas (of The Invisible Guest) scores again via his compelling and low-key performance in THE SKIN OF THE WOLF, an historical mostly-three-character mini-epic about a hunter who lives alone in the woods and "buys" a woman to keep him company and provide sex and whatever else she is able. As written and directed by Samu Fuentes, this first film is impressive for its gorgeous cinema-tography/wilderness locations, as well as for the performances of Casas and the actors who play the two different women he procures (Ruth Diaz and Irene Escolar).

Overall the film offers very little dialog, as our protagonist is mostly a grunt-and-fuck fellow, so we must make do with simply watching him and his partners "behave." They do this well, it must be said, but eventually the lack of communication begins to take its toll. There is indeed a plot, as such, and some mystery, even a climax. But how well you'll last out the proceedings -- even given the great beauty larded with immense hardship these characters must endure -- will probably depend on just how immersed you become in the difficult daily life on display. In its way, the movie becomes as much of an endurance test for the audience as this life must be to those living it.

All the above films -- and a number of others from Spain -- are available now via Netflix streaming.

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