Site Specific: Spain

By Metin Alsanjak

inconscientes-joaquin-oristrell.jpgInconscientes, 2004

When considering Spanish cinema, most foreign cinema enthusiasts would think of Almódovar, Enrice, Amenábar, Medem, and the great Luis Buñuel.

Great though the works of these Spanish auteurs are, when it comes to encouraging international awareness of a wider group of home-grown filmmakers the picture becomes much more hazy.

It was to clarify this issue that the Spanish government invested a large amount of Euros to throw at an industry event, Madrid de Cine, for overseas buyers and journalists to meet and speak to Spain’s under-represented filmmakers.

Taking place in the country’s grand capital, journalists interviewed actors and directors by day, and were plied with canapés and alcohol in the evenings, in an event that was refreshingly aimed at letting world’s media develop a long-term relationship going with the country’s lesser known films and filmmakers.

The only film promoted at the event to make it to general release in the UK event was Unconscious – in cinemas this autumn, and promoted with a Q+A screening at the London Spanish Film Festival mid-September.

A murder mystery set in the seedy intellectual circles of 1930s Barcelona, Unconscious follows the story of voluptuous and pregnant Alma, played by Leona Watling, who some may recognise from her naked and comatosed state in Talk to Her.

A fiercely independent modern woman with a passion for Freud, Alma tries to find out why her psychologist husband has suddenly disappeared. Joining her on the adventure is her sexually repressed brother-in-law.

inconscientes-joaquin-oristrell-2.jpgInconscientes, 2004

Desperately fast-paced and loaded with slapstick comedy, Unconscious is entertaining but unlikely to get audiences wondering why more Spanish cinema has not made it onto foreign screens.

Far more daring, but near impossible to see outside of Spain is Ramon Salazar’s 20 centimetros, shown in London earlier this year at the BFI’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

A director to watch out for in future, Ramon Salazar’s gaudy, gung-ho musical is at times reminiscent of early Almódovar, and in person, the energetic, intelligent and rebellious young director comes across just as forceful and dynamic as his work.

In 20 centimetros Salazar casts an amateur actress (one of his close friends, no less) to play the lead; he ruins his soap-star friend’s TV-hunk reputation by casting him as a butch and burping grocer that likes nothing more than gay sex with a transsexual; he even manages to charm Julio Medem’s favourite muse Najwa Nimri into arranging all the musical sequences and star as a prostitute, despite her being heavily pregnant.

The film’s main character is a transsexual prostitute, and almost all woman – except for the 20 centimetre monster between her legs that her clients just love, but that she cannot wait to have surgically removed.

Packed with hilariously candid gay sex scenes, 20 centimetros pokes fun at heterosexuals, and conjures a randy and repressed image of Spain where latent homosexuality is rife.

Planned to be bigger and better next year, the long-term aims of Madrid de Cine are admirable. This is an industry festival that cultural policymakers pushing their country’s cinema should take note of.

Metin Alsanjak is a writer and musician.