3 to see at LFF: Spanish-language films

Maria Delgado recommends three hot tickets at this year’s LFF: a film by an established director, a breakthrough and a wildcard.

13 September 2023

By Maria Delgado

London Film Festival

The Practice (La práctica)

The Practice (2023)

What’s it about?

The Practice is a deft black comedy focusing on a yoga teacher facing a series of challenges both in his private and professional life as he and his wife navigate their divorce. There are injuries, thefts, therapy with the ex-wife, a mother keen to come and visit, and a client who sustains an injury in his yoga studio…

Who made it?

Martín Rejtman is a key figure in the new Argentine cinema who has been making films since the mid-1980s. His deadpan dialogue, offbeat sense of rhythm, quirky narratives and grasp of the more absurd facets of the human condition have created a particular genre of slacker movie, populated by ambling middle-class ‘porteños’. 

What’s special about it?

It may be almost a decade since Argentine Martín Rejtman’s last feature (Two Shots Fired, LFF 2014), but The Practice is well worth the wait. An absurdist comedy set in Santiago, Chile, this taut tale of an increasingly stressed yoga teacher is filled with amusing gags, droll dialogue and gloriously eccentric characters. The hapless Gustavo – a terrific performance by Esteban Bigliardi, also outstanding in another LFF feature, The Delinquents – proves an engaging conduit for a film where characters and situations are as much defined by what is not said as by the banter and verbal repartee.

See this if you like…

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), The Miracle of Morgan Creek (1943), Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974), Viola (2012).

20,000 Species of Bees (20.00 especies de abeja)

What’s it about?

Family secrets unravel over a summer break as Ane and her three children – Nerea, Eneko and Cocó – leave Bayonne for the Spanish-Basque country to visit her mother and extended family, including their aunt, beekeeper Lourdes. Cocó and Lourdes’ intergenerational friendship opens up new possibilities for Cocó as they ask questions of themselves and the person they want to be.

Who made it?

This may be Estibalez Urresola Solaguren’s debut dramatic feature, but she has a track record of accomplished shorts (Adri, Ashes and Dust and Cuerdas) as well as a feature-length documentary Paper Voices, which premiered in San Sebastián in 2016. Much of her work is rooted in Basque culture, on the passing of traditions, and wider issues of inheritance and legacy.

What’s special about it?

There is a rich and distinctive link between Víctor Erice’s debut feature, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), first seen 50 years ago, and 20,000 Species of Bees. Both films are centred on silence, dysfunctional families and beekeeping. Erice’s film was situated in the ravaged post-civil war era; Urresola opts for a contemporary democratic 21st-century setting, but both films have a series of unresolved tensions blighting family relationships. 

Sofía Otero’s performance as eight-year-old Cocó is outstanding in a coming-of-age film that feels original and different, with a lean screenplay that avoids unnecessary exposition with piercing questions. The film interweaves Cocó’s journey with that of her mother Ane, trying to return to her artistic work while her late father’s legacy as a successful sculptor hovers over her attempts. Quite simply one of the best films of the year. 

Look out also for Víctor Erice’s new film Close Your Eyes playing also in LFF and another great Spanish debut, a noir thriller from Víctor Iriarte, Foremost by Night.

See this if you like… 

The Spirit of the Beehive, El sur (1983), XXY (2007).

The Settlers (Los colonos)

The Settlers (2023)
© Quijote Films/Rampante Films/Rei Cine/Quiddity Films/Volos Films/Cine-Sud Promotion/Snowglobe/Film I Väst/Sutor Kolonko

What’s it about?

In the south of Chile, at the beginning of the 20th century, a wealthy landowner (played by Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro) hires a former Scottish army lieutenant to clear a pathway to the Atlantic Ocean for his livestock. He is accompanied by a mercenary and an indigenous worker known as an accomplished marksman. Their journey exposes a series of tensions and terrors that reveal the problematic foundations on which modern Chile was built.

Who made it?

This is Felipe Gálvez’s debut feature, but the filmmaker has an assured track record as an editor, and writer and director of shorts – which have played in Cannes, Rotterdam and BAFICI (among other festivals). The crisp, lean style – showing rather than telling – that so marks The Settlers is also visible in Gálvez’s earlier shorts, such as Silencio en la sala (2009) and Rapaz (2018). 

What’s special about it?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the military coup that deposed democratically elected president Salvador Allende this year and three Chilean films in the festival all touch on the history of Chile in some way or other. Penal Cordillera centres on the legacy of the regime and what justice really means when the architects of the dictatorship remain protected, The Eternal Memory deals with memory and history, and The Settlers forges a period western-cum-thriller that confronts the brutal genocide of the Selk’nam population. 

Felipe Gálvez’s slow burner follows the trio of travellers as the expedition unravels. Co-written with Antonia Girardi, it’s a stylised, ambitious and impeccably crafted film about the (problematic) ways in which histories are constructed. Look out for Argentine writer-director Mariano Llinás in a supporting role.

See this if you like… 

La jauría (2022), Zama (2017), Peterloo (2018).

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