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.