A Singular Crime – Spanish Film Festival

A Singular Crime / Un Crimen Argentino is a 2022 thriller based on the 2002 Reynaldo Sietecasebook of the same name. It’s inspired by a true story occurring in 1980 Rosario, Argentina during the “Dirty War” military dictatorship.

The book was a best seller, and now the film leaves audiences just as intrigued as they try to solve the crime alongside the protagonists. It is airing at the 2023 Spanish Film Festival and is a must-watch for any who love a mystery.

Unlike the book, A Singular Crime primarily follows around two court clerks, Antonio González Rivas (Nicolás Francella) and Carlos Torres (Matías Mayer), alongside the judge’s secretary, Maria Bussato (Malena Sanchez), as they try to solve the case of a missing businessman named Gabriel “Turco” Samid (Pablo Tolosa).

Given the immense corruption of the Dirty War era Argentinian military, the clerks must race to solve the mystery before the police can close the investigation, dodging their interference at each step. The audience follow Rivas and Torres down rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole trying to figure out what happened to Samid, piecing together the last night before his disappearance and who could have demanded the one-million-dollar ransom.

They discover the struggle of solving the mystery when all of the authority figures sing the tune of “no body, no crime.” Fans of the book get to enjoy this story from another perspective, rather than following the story of the perpetrator. 

Director Lucas Combina definitely evokes the imagery of a Hollywood film set in the same time period, especially with the lighting and cinematography. It allows foreign viewers to feel familiar with the art style, appealing to a larger demographic. Francella and Mayer provide excellent performances but personally, Dario Grandinetti as Mariano Marquez was the standout star for me. 

If you’re attending the Spanish Film Festival in 2023, don’t miss A Singular Crime / Un CrimenArgentino. The festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is showing 32 films, not to mention highlighting the women in Spanish and Latin cinema. 

This review also appears on It’s On The House.

Cork Pops into the Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival is back this June and July and celebrating it’s 25th year! Presented by Palace, the film festival is accessible online, or in person, in major cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

There are plentiful films to choose from with helpful category groupings such as ‘New Spanish Cinema’, ‘Spotlight on Argentina’, ‘Focus on Female Filmmakers’ and more.

I had the pleasure of viewing ‘Cork’ (‘Suro’), a Drama/Thriller feature film debut from Director Mikel Gurrea, that is creating a lot of excitement in its New Spanish Cinema category. It has already won a slew of awards at the Zurich Film Festival (2022), San Sebastian International Film Festival (2022) and Gaudi Awards (2023). And justifiably so.

Newlywed couple Elena (Vicky Luengo) and Ivan (Pol Lopez) have recently inherited an old stone farmhouse and cork forest from Elena’s deceased aunt. With their first child on it’s way, they set about navigating the realities of managing and profiting from the 1,200 acre cork forest, whilst achieving their budding goals of a life lived in harmony, ethically, in nature.

However, the reality of managing a cork farm and life in the countryside becomes a harsh lesson as the couple juggle various onslaughts to their relationship, lifestyle and dreams – often from unexpected quarters, each other.

Actor Ilyass El Ouahdani, also delivers a convincing portrayal of Karim, a cork farm worker whose presence leads events to spiral out of control.

Cork explores the balance of power in relationships and the film delves into and makes home of delivering a story that unfolds methodically, with stunning cinematography, minimal dialogue and the use of the rustic environment to reflect the tension brewing.

Both lead actors inhabit their characters with restrained composure and intelligence. There is a love between Elena and Pol, but there is friction as each face the other as an opponent on matters moral and ethical. Opinions are divided, yet as a unit they persist and resist caving in to the other, standing their ground in their beliefs and convictions.

Strewn with many taught moments, subtle character reactions and loaded, often unspoken, dialogue, Cork is a film where a small decision or reaction reverberates throughout the story. The cork forest becomes a tapestry for the power plays and dynamics to wield battle.

In juxtaposition to the scenic countryside, at times idyllic, at times land of deviousness, there are a few sequences inserted that uncover the characters roguish and devilish natures. Neither Elena or Pol are completely likeable, in fact in many ways they are far from it. Yet neither are disagreeable, they are human, fallible and at times downright nasty.

They represent us, the audience, in a chillingly accurate snapshot. As much pieces, and pawns, of the rugged tapestry that is this film.

The lingering takeaway is how real this film feels when watching. The acting is incredibly understated, there are moments you think you’re watching real people and this film is simply an elevated documentary.

It is seamless in it’s execution of this. The cork forest is itself an imposing character, as is the north wind and dry summer conditions. The land is truly alive and contributing to the theme of power and dynamic.

The Director has achieved capturing a vividness to life on a cork farm, and the stress and realities those who manage one must face. It is subtle, it is at times confusing and it is very confronting.

This film as a slow burn thriller is uncomfortable and relishes in it’s understated grit. With a run time of 116 minutes, it will keep you guessing how each character with respond to the pressure of the moment until those credits roll.

This review also appears on It’s On The House.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival returns and is celebrating its 25th year! This time, the festival will be heading to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Byron Bay, bringing with it a selection of films from across Spanish-speaking cultures. With subdivisions of New Spanish Cinema and Cine Latino and a range of genres available, there will be something for everyone in the festival program this year.

The preview film for the 2023 Spanish Film Festival was Alberto Rodriguez’s Prison 77 (In Spanish, Modelo 77). Prison 77 is a prison drama film set in the late 70s that follows the fictional experiences of Manuel, a young accounting assistant recently jailed for embezzlement and awaiting trial, as he joins a group of prisoners demanding amnesty during the transition to democracy in Spain. During this time, many political prisoners jailed by the Francoist regime received amnesty from the new government, and other prisoners held in the jails believed they deserved the same for being imprisoned by a crooked government.

Manuel and his fellow agitators form the Prisoners Rights Association (PRA) and hold protests, riots, and demonstrations against the harsh and unjust treatment they receive from the prison guards. When all their efforts fail, Manuel and some of his fellow prisoners stage a prison break in Shawshank Redemption style, tunnelling out of the prison and leaving through the sewer system to begin a new life.

The two lead actors head up the film masterfully. Miguel Harran brings a quiet intensity to his role of Manuel and does a fantastic job of showing the highs and lows of Manuel’s journey. Harran is matched by Javier Gutierrez as Jose Pino, Manuel’s older cellmate. Gutierrez’s Pino provides a wonderful counterbalance to Manuel as he both challenges and helps him, and Gutierrez keeps up with Harran blow for blow, both delivering incredible performances.

The script was tightly written, with no spare dialogue. Rodriguez, and co-writer Rafael Cobos, avoid the trap of using dialogue to explain what is happening in the moment, and what the character is going through internally. Instead, they trust the actors to convey all of that with a look or a gesture. Pino’s monologue about change and pushing forward despite the odds comes at the end of the second act and inspires Manuel just as he is about to give up, which proves a particularly fantastic moment. At least for me, that monologue hit hard, providing a much-needed emotional beat amidst the many visceral beatings shown on screen.

As well as having faith in the cast to convey the story without dialogue, Rodriguez’s direction never feels like it’s talking down to the audience. Instead, we are allowed inside a turbulent time in Spain. The score of the film is of particular note. At times it enhances the action, drama, and tension. At others, it shocks the viewer out of their immersion in a Brechtian style. This was especially obvious during the time jumps.

The film has a 125-minute run time and is filled with a lot of violence that could have perhaps been implied rather than explicitly shown. In fact, the repeated beatings feel somewhat overdone, as the audience is already well aware of the cruelty and injustice the prisoners faced and continuing to explicitly show the violence felt more gratuitous than informative.

Prison 77 is a great film to kick off the 25-year anniversary of the Spanish Film Festival here in Australia. If all the films shown across the program this year are of the same quality, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The Spanish Film Festival runs through June and early July so please be sure to look up session times if you are anywhere near Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Byron Bay.

This review also appears in It’s On The House.

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