As the days shorten, and autumn bleeds into winter, the chill temperatures are enlivened by the start of the 2015 Spanish Film Festival, running in Sydney exclusively at Palace Verona and Norton Street from 21 April until 10 May, opening at staggered dates in other cities subsequently. Amongst its offerings are the multi-Goya winning Marshland, a stunningly-shot and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of TV series True Detective, and the riotous comedy Carmina Y Ámen, with the incomparable Carmina Barrios reprising her role from the cult Carmina (Blow Up).
Happily full of tortilla, I settled in for the screening of the Festival’s closing night film Wild Tales (aka Relatos Salvajes), directed by Damián Szifron. As the cinema lights dimmed, I was abuzz with anticipacìon. A series of six short films connected by the theme of vengeance, co-produced by Pedro Almòdovar (director of Talk To Her and All About My Mother); expectations were high.
What ensued, whilst never quite dazzling, did not disappoint; Pasternak, a highly farcical prologue, set the tone for the blackly comedic segments to follow. Las Ratas (The Rats), a diner-vignette of revenge, and El Màs Fuertes (The Strongest), an improbable escalating tit-for-tat played out on an isolated freeway, both built steadily, eliciting laughs and skilfully inducing suspense.
The protagonist of Bombita (Little Bomb) is almost an anti-hero; Simon Fischér (Ricardo Dárin) perfectly articulates the hopeless rage felt by those faced with undiscerning government bureaucracy, and those that benefit tangentially.
La Propuesta (The Proposal) is a masterful exercise in misdirection. The audience is entangled in the bargaining and squabbling of the various parties, amused and appalled simultaneously by the lack of morality and self-serving greed, and forgets until too late what implications may come from what they are fighting over.
The final film Hasta que la muerte nos separe (Until death do us part) ensnared me; I was mesmerised by Romina (Érica Rivas) at her wedding reception, raptly watching the bride’s descent into reckless almost-hysteria at the discovery of her new husband’s infidelity. The reactions of all the nuptial guests to her erratic behaviour are highly diverting, with the responses of both sets of parents and her groom, Ariel (Diego Gentile), in particular generating much hilarity.
Although the eventual trajectories of the various storylines were predictable, the execution made them all entertaining and enjoyable nonetheless. I found myself continually laughing in horrified surprise at small divergences and unexpected plot twists – I never knew I was capable of chortling whilst cringing. With the exception of El Màs Fuertes the shorts are not overtly violent, but what violence there is can be explicit – this film is not for those whose stomachs easily turn. Author Stephen King described a short story as a kiss in the dark from a stranger, compared to the all-consuming affair that a novel can be; that analogy can be aptly applied here, although with this collection you can never be certain whether the person you’re leaning into will kiss you, or bite you.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Spanish Film Festival 2015 dates:
Sydney — 21 April – 10 May
Melbourne — 22 April – 10 May
Brisbane — 29 April – 13 May
Canberra — 23 April – 6 May
Adelaide — 6–20 May
Perth — 23 April – 6 May
Byron Bay — 30 April – 7 May
Hobart — 7–13 May