Movies!Dear Reader, while in Spain make sure that you take advantage of seeing Spanish movies. Movies often give a bit of insight into the culture. One name to know in Spanish filmmaking is Pedro Almodovar. The most influential Spanish filmmaker. His work is respected world wide. Aside from speaking the language, visiting Spanish cities and going to museum exhibits make sure to see a Spanish film. To offer a bit of assistance, I have given movie reviews of four Spanish movies that I have seen while here.
Suspense, Drama, Comedy, my list goes on and on. Every committed movie-goer should live, eat and sleep by these terms. Are you depressed and in need of a chuckle? If so definitely go for a comedy. Craving excitement? A suspense flick is the right choice as these will certainly keep you on edge. Is it in your best interest to be spun around on an “emotional roller coaster”? A drama will take you on a stomach- churning sized ride. As a full-fledged cinophile, it is true that I often find myself staying up until the wee hours of the night just to finish a DVD and dream up an extended ending to a film after it is over. Movies are used to tell a story of a specific time in history. I love them because by watching movies I am exposed to a new subject or aspect of life. We all have our Achilles Heel. The robust comic book character, Superman, had kryptonite, the evil witch from The Wizard of Oz melted when she came into contact with sunlight. One of mine happens to involve cameras, scripts and pricey budgets. “Lights! Camera! Action!” Of course I am talking about movies.
The first day of class when my teacher Havana told the rest of the nine students and me that we would be watching lots of films in the course, I was very skeptical about if these movies would be able to hold my attention. Back in the United States I was use to fighting to keep my eyes open as a monotone narrator described literature of the sixteenth century. The movies we watched in school were lacking in excitement. On a Wednesday night the class huddled into the cozy movie room to watch our first film. After seeing the film, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, I knew that I had completely under-estimated how much I would enjoy the class. Finally I had found a teacher who sympathized with my movie needs. Through the movies that we watched in class, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Live Flesh, The Tongue of the Butterfly and The Others, I was personally exposed to Spanish culture. Passion continued to be a reoccurring theme in all the movies. Through watching the films and observing my surroundings in Spain I realized that Spaniards are accurately described as an extremely passionate group of people. I found suspense, drama and comedy in the movies we watched. Although some I found more enjoyable than others, they are all noteworthy because each made me aware of a particular aspect of Spain.
Vicki Cristina Barcelona, directed by the American film director, Woody Allen, was an introduction to my new life in Spain. At that point I had only been in the country for four days. Allen told the story of two young American women. Vicki was cautious and skeptical while Cristina was an open-minded and impulsive firecracker. The two were able to discover themselves in Barcelona with the help of an artistic and passionate Don Juan, Juan Antonio. I found myself relating a bit to both characters. Like Vicki, I knew I had to be cautious in Spain, however, I wanted to remain open minded to the Spanish customs. Through the character Juan Antonio, and his crazy ex-wife, Maria Elena, the American director stereotyped Spaniards as passionate, artistic, romantic and impulsive. After watching the movie, on the streets of Segovia, I kept my eyes peeled to see if the stereotypes were true. Sitting in a cafe drinking a cafe con leche, I noticed how tense the Spaniards were when watching their favorite Futbol team on TV. As I sat down on a bench near the Aqueduct I paid special attention to the intensity of a bickering couple yelling ,clueless of their obnoxiousness, at each other. After having the intense argument, the couple would reconcile and walk up the street hand in hand. The movie proved to be true. Spaniards were passionate, fiery, impulsive and not afraid to show it.
Live Flesh. The name of this film is just as fun as the Spanish filmmaker who directed it, Pedro Almodovar. An avant garde director in Spanish filmmaking, Almodovar played puppet master during La Movida, a post-Franco movement where Spaniards displayed skin to represent their new cultural and sexual freedom. Almodovar is known for making movies that push boundaries. My first Almodovar film was filled with sex and passion, two of Almodovar’s trademarks, in addition to violence, deceit and revenge. In this drama filled flick, Almodovar subtlety highlighted the differences between Franco’s Spain and Post-Franco Spain. In the beginning of the movie Almodovar showed Franco’s Spain through exposing the lifelessness of Madrid. It was around 10:00pm and the streets were dark and empty. When he showed Post-Franco Spain, Almodovar was able to capture the vivacity of Madrid. Again Almodovar showed the city at night, however, this time Madrid was bustling. The streetlights were bright, people where walking up and down the streets and shopping stores were open.
Almodovar is now a name respected by actors, actresses and directors world-wide. It was interesting to watch Live Flesh because it was my first movie directed by a Spanish filmmaker. Almodovar pushed the theme of passion into the faces of his audience. However, my favorite aspect of the movie was the nuance Almodovar used to compare a suffocated Spain to its liberated counterpart. Through watching Live Flesh I gained a clearer grasp on modern Spain. Because Spaniards had been previously suppressed by the Franco dictatorship, they now utilize their freedom to be is open, carefree and eccentric.
The most heartbreaking film of the term, The Tongue of the Butterfly, personalized my experience with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. We follow the life of a young Spanish boy, Mancho, who concentrates on his education, not aware of the chaos that will soon erupt between the Fascists and Republicans. Tensions in Mancho’s own household between Mancho’s dad who is a man of the Republic, and Mancho’s mom, who keeps her faith in the Fascist supporting Roman Catholic church also personalizes the Spanish Civil War. Unlike the other movies we watched this term, The Tongue of the Butterfly was also a book. Normally, I am able to fully understand themes and characters in the books that I read. However, after watching The Tongue of the Butterflies having already read the short story, I was able to connect more with the movie. Through the movie I was able to sympathize with the characters. At the end of the film when Mancho’s school teacher, Don Gregorio, is taken away by the Spanish military for his republican beliefs, I shed a couple of tears. The Civil War seems to be a past that the Spanish would like to forget. Bloodshed among country men is never a pleasant topic, however, I have noticed that Spaniards are especially anxious about the subject. Among Spaniards, the Civil War is not discussed because it is a topic that hits close to home for many people.
Scary movies have always been one of my favorites. Unlike most gaudy and over-bloody scary movies, The Others used lighting,make up, and minimal special features to create the full effect of a scary movie. Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, a young artist, his life revolved around civil warfare. Before Amenabar was born, his mother fled Spain because of the Civil War and government takeover by the Franco dictatorship. Chile was the family’s new home. Then when Amenabar was one year old, his family fled back to Spain because of the rising dictatorship in Chile. Amenabar infuses war into The Others by making the movie set during World War II.
The main character of the movie, Grace, lives in a huge house, with her two sun-allergenic children, on an island off the coast of England. When three strange characters move into the house to help Grace with chores,spooky things are brought to light. The fact that the entire movie is mostly in darkness symbolizes the depression of a war ridden country. Using religion as a major theme, Amenabar expresses the importance of the church in the lives of the adults of the time. He contrasts the adult ideas with those of the children who are more interested in loosening their values. Spaniards today are less likely to attend church due to the fact that Roman Catholic values were previously forced upon them.
The drama-filled movies we watched in class each gave me a lesson on Spanish history and insight to understanding modern Spain. I started my Spanish journey with Vicki Cristina Barcelona in which I learned about Spanish passion. Next came Almadovar’s Live Flesh. Through it I became aware of the reason Spaniards today are loose and carefree. The Tongue of the Butterflies gave me a personal connection with the Spanish Civil War. Lastly, young filmmaker, Amenabar exposed the darkness of war and religious confinement in The Others. As I watched the movies I would take note of the themes, then look to see if I noticed anything in my Spanish surroundings that would correspond with or discredit them. Watching films is a useful way to gain an introduction to culture and history.
Dear reader, as I said in the beginning, make sure to watch a Spanish film. All the movies I mentioned above are a great list to chose from. Sorry to say, there is no real lesson in this essay. However, movies will give you a broader perspective of society. They are enjoyable and enriching. With either Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Live Flesh, The Tongue of the Butterfly or The Others, there is no way to go wrong.