Lovers of Spanish and Latin American movies should turn to HOME in Manchester this week as ¡Viva!, the UK’s largest celebration of Spanish-language cinema, kicks off its 25th edition with a sharply curated programme of 21 features.
The theme this year is “serious fun”, inspired by the cultural tradition of esperpento. As such, satire abounds in the programme, not least in the form of Acción mutante (1993) and The Day of the Beast (1995), the first two films from cult Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia, whose work has added a devilish irreverence to many a ¡Viva! programme over the years.
Another unique Spanish filmmaker making waves on the international scene around the same time was the late, great Bigas Luna, and ¡Viva! screens his splendid run of surreal erotic comedies from the early 90s: Jamón, Jamón (1992), Golden Balls (1993) and The Tit and the Moon (1994).
As well as these Spanish classics, there’s also a preview of Colombian film Birds of Passage from Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, the duo behind mischievous Amazonian adventure Embrace of the Serpent (2015).
Here are six other films we recommend seeking out.
Some Time After
Set so far in the future that writer-director José Luis Cuerda hasn’t even settled on a date – “In 9177, give or take a thousand years” – this madcap dystopian satire imagines the world’s population has been reduced to a single building of well-off inhabitants, which is surrounded by a grimy collection of unemployed people barely surviving on the fringes. Like Cuerda’s celebrated surreal comedy Amanece, que no es poco (1989), Some Time After is reportedly a Pythonesque riot.
Films about handsome sociopaths are all the rage these days, but Luis Ortega’s true-life crime drama about Carlos Robledo Puch, Argentina’s most infamous murderer, is a cut above. Backed by Pedro Almodóvar and featuring more than a hint of the Spanish director’s gay eroticism, the film centres on the remarkable performance of Lorenzo Ferro, who portrays the cherub-like killer as utterly irredeemable, with no woe-is-me excuses given for his behaviour beyond disaffected boredom. That being said, Ortega’s energetic style means the character’s hedonistic crime spree is never less than luridly entertaining.
The blunt title of this sensitive debut from the Dominican Republic is an apt one: the eponymous 14-year-old protagonist is prone to telling fibs, including a whopper about the race of the boy with whom she’s begun an online romance. Miriam’s fear of revealing that her potential boyfriend is black stems from her own confused identity as a mixed-race young woman living in a society brimming with endemic racism, not least from her light-skinned, Hispanic mother, who often displays these bigoted attitudes in front of her daughter. Directors Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada keep the camera close to their actors, creating an intimate portrait of an introverted young woman carrying a heavy emotional burden.
Jean-François and the Meaning of Life
We’re getting a distinct Wes Anderson vibe from this whimsical take on teen angst from debut director Sergi Portabella. It concerns Francesc, a nervy, eye-patch-wearing 13-year-old from Catalonia who’s mercilessly bullied at school until he stumbles across the writing of Albert Camus. Overnight he transforms into an avid existentialist (well, he starts popping his collar up and changes his name to Jean-François) and embarks on an ill-planned trip to Paris to meet his hero.
Blending Greek tragedy with soap opera and told over a fractured chronology, Jaime Rosales’ visually and emotionally dynamic Petra follows a young painter who joins the household of a famous artist on a residency, although it soon proves she has motives for being there beyond honing her craft.
Icíar Bollaín’s take on the life of celebrated Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta conforms to the well-thumbed biopic playbook in some regards but is thrillingly unconventional in others. Acosta himself stars in a present-day section following him as he directs an impressionistic dance performance based on his own life, but during rehearsals he finds himself flashing back to his childhood in Cuba as a recalcitrant ballet student. Bollaín, working from Paul Laverty’s script, has a trump card up her sleeve in the modern day dance sequences choreographed by Acosta, which punctuates the prosaic rags-to-renown dancer story with dollops of physical poetry.