The Spanish Film Festival turned sixteen this year. To celebrate, it added Canberra and Byron Bay to its already impressive list of cities to be visited by all things Cine español. Plus, this year, Maribel Verdú, the brilliant actress from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), has joined the festival to participate in audience Q&As to follow the screening of some of her most recent films. One of these films is Fin (2012), by first-time Spanish feature director Jorge Torregrossa.
Fin mixes together ample portions of sex, relationships and getting older along with, of all things, apocalyptic science fiction. It then adds a pinch of existential rumination to taste before throwing the whole thing out to bake in the summer heat of the Spanish countryside. The result is surprisingly appetising.
A group of forty-somethings reunite at a country house that was the site of many a merry jaunt during their shared youth. They’re all twenty years older, wiser and generally more cynical than their last encounter two decades ago. Félix (Daniel Grao) is the last to arrive at the house and he brings with him a mysterious young woman, Eve (Clara Lago), who quickly ingratiates herself with both the men and women of the group.
After a lot of wine and a handful of magic mushrooms, the group are reminiscing around a campfire in the early hours of the morning, when what looks like an enormous meteorite crashes through the sky, disabling all electronic and mechanical equipment. The group is concerned, but decides to wait until daylight to investigate further.
The next morning, Maribel (Maribel Verdú) is alarmed to discover that her husband, Rafa (Antonio Garrido), has vanished during the night. The group decides to leave the country house in search of help.
The plot quickly morphs into a mysterious apocalyptic road movie, where the group is tossed from one strange encounter to the next as they make their way across the dramatic Spanish countryside. Most alarmingly, group members begin to vanish one-by-one, into thin air. And then there is an unsettling situation with an estranged friend, Ángel (Eugenio Mira), who the friends lost touch with after an incident involving hallucinogenics that turned Ángel into a kind of soothsayer with significant mental illness. There is doubt about Ángel’s connection to the strange happenings that have enveloped the idyllic landscape.
The group must negotiate these and other hurdles as they make their way towards safety, all the while coming to terms with the changes that have taken place in their own lives over the years and their feelings towards one another.
This is an interesting film for its unlikely mash-up of Spanish romantic drama and apocalyptic Sci-Fi. Visually, it is beautiful: the sweeping shots of the Spanish countryside are spectacular; the colour is rich throughout most of the film. There is the feeling of being in a world that is paused at the beginning of a sunset, where everything is gold and sparkly. Here, the end of daylight signifies the End of Days, and the look is an elegant alternative to the storm clouds and hellfire that we usually see in apocalyptic cinema.
The performances are solid too: Maribel Verdú is compelling as the conflicted Maribel. Daniel Garo is likeable as the story’s hero, Félix, and Clara Lago shows strength as the enigmatic Eva. Carmen Ruiz is disturbing but poignant as the maternal spinster, Sara.
The film comes a bit unstuck in its attempt to balance the demands of an apocalyptic ‘journey’ plot with the more complex relationships between the characters. There are moments when the movement from plot point to plot point, or revelation to revelation, feels pretty clunky. However, this film is wonderfully atmospheric and the cast is so astonishingly good-looking that the plot holes aren’t all that important. It’s an entertaining and unique piece of contemporary Spanish cinema.
This was the final Q&A of the festival for Maribel Verdú, which is a shame because she was great to hear from- really enthusiastic, positive and generous. For someone who is known for her hard-hitting dramatic roles, this was quite a diversion for her and she was candid about how she went about slipping into such a different genre of filmmaking. She’s definitely worth keeping an eye out if ever she’s back in town.
Review Score: THREE STARS OUT OF FIVE
Duration: 90 Minutes
Fin screened as part of Sydney’s Spanish Film Festival.