Sunday, June 18, 2006

Spanish Films at the NZ Film Festival

Spanish Films at the NZ Film Festival

Telecom 2006 New Zealand International Film Festivals
Auckland July 13 - 30
Wellington July 21 - August 6
Dunedin July 28 - August 13
Christchurch August 3 - 20

Venue details, dates and sessions are still to be confirmed but will be available in the festival brochure and online at from the end of June.

The Line-up:

The Aura
Argentina/Spain/France 2005, 134 Minutes
Director: Fabián Bielinsky
With: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Alejandro Awada, Pablo Cedrón,
Jorge D’Elia, Manuel Rodal, Rafael Castejón, Walter Reyno, Nahuel Pérez
In Spanish with English subtitles
Festivals: San Sebastian 2005, Sundance 2006

As a follow up to his internationally fêted début Nine Queens,
Argentine writer/director Fabián Bielinsky delivers this spellbinding, noirish heist film set in the magnificent mountain wilderness of Patagonia. But to place The Aura within the heist genre fails to hint at the rich psychological tapestry and sense of existential tension that builds around the central character, a shy, epileptic taxidermist from Buenos Aires. Played with subtle, mesmerising complexity by Ricardo Darín, he speaks only when absolutely necessary, but we are soon aware of his elaborate fantasy life (aided by his near-photographic memory) in which he operates as a criminal mastermind. All this scheming takes place in his imagination… that is, until he is dragged on an ill-fated hunting trip by a pushy colleague
and finds himself drawn into an elaborate criminal scheme. Has a lifetime of fantasising a career in crime prepared him for a real casino hit or double-crossing partners who fire genuine bullets?

“An original, atmospheric exercise in existential film noir, sealed by a mesmerising performance.” — Lee Marshall, Screendaily

“The Aura sports a shrewd, serpentine plot, and Bielinsky allows us
the fun of trying to arrange puzzle pieces on our own. But he also never lets go of his preoccupation with character and crafts a style that’s airy and contemplative; The Aura’s gorgeous, deliberate visuals are almost hypnotic. Espinoza [the taxidermist] is a fascinating protagonist, a quiet, opaque man who suffers from epilepsy. The ‘aura’ refers to the eerie, frozen moment before a seizure when Espinoza knows it’s coming but can do nothing about it. It’s one of a handful of intertwining metaphors and themes that give The Aura a satisfying sense of wholeness.” — John Nein, Sundance Film Festival

Battle in Heaven
Batalla en el cielo
Mexico/France/Belgium/Germany 2005, 98 Minutes
Director: Carlos Reygadas
With: Marcos Hernández, Berta Ruiz
In Spanish with English subtitles
Festivals: Cannes (In Competition), Toronto 2005; Sundance 2006

Carlos Reygadas’ follow-up to the startling Japón ambitiously turns the struggle for the soul of its protagonist into an epic critique on the role of religion in Mexican life in oppressing the lower class. Many masterpieces have been booed at Cannes. Reygadas’ film, about a general’s driver and his wife who bungle a kidnap, isn’t one of them. But it is a provocative mix of hardcore religion and art-porn which, judging by the amount of attention it is receiving long after its stormy première, is still something of a cause célèbre. It’s easy to see why the film is so thoroughly disliked. It is sledgehammer
filmmaking that shouts it greatness at you, but thankfully there is much to enjoy in the masterful, beautifully shot, almost documentary-like sequences focused around not just religion but such pillars of Mexican society as the military and football. It may be a
deeply muddled and pretentious film, but it’s very much a big screen experience and we know that there are plenty of Japón fans out there who will want to witness its spectacular grandiosity for themselves.

The Method
El Método, aka The Grönholm Method
Spain/Argentina/Italy 2005, 115 Minutes
Director: Marcelo Piñeyro
With: Eduardo Noriega, Najwa Nimri, Eduard Fernández, Pablo Echarri,
Ernesto Alterio, Carmelo Gómez, Adriana Ozores, Natalia Verbeke
In Spanish and English, with English subtitles
Festivals: Toronto, Vancouver 2005; San Francisco 2006

The Method outfoxes TV survivor shows by staging a desperate dog-eat-dog scenario in the “human” resources department of a multinational corporation. Suavely savage, cinematic and pulsing with self-assurance, The Method takes the simplest of scenarios – seven
executives, with markedly different styles, compete for the same top job – and turns it into a gripping corporate thriller that makes Neil La Bute seem overly sentimental. The title, The Method, refers to the Grönholm Method, a fictitious selection process supposedly imported from the United States that positions the contenders in direct
competition with one another until the last suit standing gets the job. To make matters even more challenging, there doesn’t seem to be anyone directing the proceedings, apart from a bank of computer screens and a smiling but slippery receptionist. As the candidates are put through their paces, including a hypothetical situation in which they must
choose who among them would be the least useful in a post-apocalyptic bunker, the psychological and even sexual power-play increases to the point of warfare. Meanwhile, outside the boardroom, anti-globalisation protestors gather on the streets of Madrid for a day of riots against the IMF. We never see the protesters, nor do their chants penetrate the thick glass walls of the boardroom, but their presence provides a constant backdrop of disquiet to underscore the filmmakers’ agenda. From the director of Kamchatka.

“Piñeyro’s film is a trenchant, disturbing take on the culture of
power, greed and self-interest that is the modus operandi for today’s global politics and economics. It is also an immensely suspenseful, high-stakes drama of what human beings are willing to do for money and prestige, as well as the Janus-faced personas that they must create in order to compete.” — Jonathan Davies, The Festival Daily (Toronto)

Los Olvidados
Mexico 1950, 85 Minutes
Director: Luis Buñuel
With: Alfonso Mejía, Estela Inda, Miguel Inclán, Roberto Cobo
In Spanish with English subtitles
Festivals: London 2005

Luis Buñuel’s violent drama of life without love in the slums of Mexico City has lost none of its shocking power. Fifty-six years after outraged Mexicans called for the director’s blood, this beautiful new print comes to us from Mexico’s UNAM film archive.

“A great, great
movie... This low-budget account of Mexico City street kids, inspired by actual cases as well as [the Spanish] Buñuel’s impressions of his new country, is a masterpiece of social surrealism and the founding work of third-world barrio horror [think City of God]. Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones) is strong enough to make a hardened Communist cry or drive a (true) Christian to despair. The title is in part ironic: once seen, this movie can never be forgotten. In no way ‘ennobled’ by their struggle to survive, Buñuel’s children are predators who band together to rob the crippled and the blind. Los Olvidados is set in a world where one child is abandoned by his father and another has to steal food from his mother. The weak prey on the weaker, dogs dress as people, and people die like dogs.” — J. Hoberman, Village Voice

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
USA/France 2005, 121 Minutes
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
With: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio César Cedillo, Dwight
Yoakam, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Levon Helm, Mel Rodriguez, Cecilia
Suárez, Inacio Guadalupe, Vanessa Bauche
In English and Spanish, with English subtitles
Festival: Cannes (In Competition), Toronto 2005, Rotterdam 2006

Tommy Lee Jones’ remarkable directorial début (in which he also stars) possesses the epic spaces, the muscular narrative and the male camaraderie of the great westerns, but its sensibility is decidedly modern and fresh. If Brokeback Mountain was the revisionist western to address homophobia, Burials, written by Mexican Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), dismantles the racism endemic in the genre. It also suggests that the most ornery of individualists can be capable of tenderness and grace. As Cannes juror Salma Hayek remarked, the film is ‘set in a macho world where they don’t act according to macho
stereotypes – where men deal with men in a real way’. Jones plays the individualist in question, a ranch hand living near the Mexican border. When his best friend, illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada, is murdered in the wilderness, he focuses his fury on the local Border Patrol authorities, who are unwilling to investigate the death of ‘just
another’ Mexican illegal. Arriaga won an award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for his vividly detailed screenplay, while Jones took the best actor prize.

“A big-hearted, grand and noble study of broken men and
broken dreams, Three Burials is cruel and comic, exquisitely photographed by Chris Menges and pleasingly old-fashioned in its commitment to elemental, vital storytelling. Tommy Lee Jones has delivered a great American tale.” — Dave Calhoun, Time Out

“Incisive yet supple, wrenching yet deeply pleasurable, The Three
Burials of Melquiades Estrada easily ranks among the year’s best pictures.” — Kevin Thomas, LA Times


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