Here comes the Spain again

SIFF celebrates the resurgence of Spanish cinema.

It's all well and good to win awards and get nice reviews, but the health of a country's native cinema can be measured at the box office. For years Hollywood films dominated the world market, to the point that the outraged French considered legislation limiting the distribution of American films. But recently several European countries have reclaimed their moviehouses, and nowhere is this more apparent than Spain. Spanish filmmakers made almost 200 movies in 1996 and 1997; these films were seen by a higher market share of their domestic audience than were the films of any other country outside the US, except perhaps India. This surge of directing talent has been compared to the French New Wave of the 1960s for the sheer vigor and invention of its filmmaking.

Of course, Americans being the movie snots that they are, Spanish films don't get shown here, aside from the campy sex-and-violence fests of Pedro Almodovar. Which is doubly unfortunate, because one of the greatest strengths of the current crop of movies is old-fashioned storytelling. "We started seeing a trend towards taking conventional structures and investing them with new and more personal ideas," said Carl Spence, one of SIFF's main programmers. "This year we're showing 10 films in this program, Siganme a Espa�I> ("Follow Me to Spain"). Last year we had eight, and then we weren't even trying."

The films include Actresses, Air Bag, Backroads, Caresses, Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health, Manly Love, Things I Left in Havana, Lucky Star, Blinded, The Day of the Beast. Eight of the films are from directors whose work has never been shown in SIFF before. Alex de la Iglesia's dark comedy The Day of the Beast follows a priest who decides the only way to get in touch with evil is to become evil himself. Manuel Gomez Pereira's Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health concerns a 30-year relationship that began under the bed of John Lennon's hotel room when the Beatles came to Spain in 1964 (the director blends his actors into archival footage with the same techniques used in Forrest Gump). In Ricardo Franco's Lucky Star, the winner of five Goya Awards, a butcher rescues a woman being assaulted by her boyfriend; from there a m鮡ge ࠴rois develops, complicated by lost testicles and glass eyes.

"It's just a small sampling of what's going on," sighed Spence. "Basically, the work coming out of Spain has wowed us."

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