By this stage of its existence, it’s 15th year, the Spanish Film Festival–which begins its national tour in Sydney this week and Melbourne before travelling to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth–doesn’t limit its selections to merely the cinema of Spain. This year’s festivities include films from Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador and Columbia, covering a wide range of genres and styles. Let’s take a look at some of the films on offer.
Animated feature films aimed at adults are becoming more and more common from the global market. While many American works of animation are aimed strictly at families, films like Mary & Max (Australia), The Illusionist (France), Renaissance (France) and The Secret of the Kells (Ireland) have brought beautifully skilled and refined “cartoons” to audiences who don’t normally see the art form as just a shiny way to distract kids.
Wrinkles is a touching drama from Ignacio Ferreras that lovingly examines the decay of a mind slowly being destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Set inside the sterile walls of a Spanish aged care facility – briefly expanding outwards as the daydreams of its residents beckon, including the Orient Express in a vividly illustrated sequence – Wrinkles focuses on two room mates, Emilio and Miguel, and their battle to keep each other away from the all too powerful grip of disease and dementia. Beautifully animated as it is – so refreshing to see 2D animation, although there are moments of CGI that blend in seamlessly – Wrinkles occasionally feels a bit too thin. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect Ferreras’ film, an adaptation of Paco Roca’s graphic novel, wouldn’t have found the attention that is has if it weren’t for the visual style it comes packaged in.
There are some really charming moments of cheeky wit found within Wrinkles, and anybody that has experienced a loved one going through Alzheimer’s will surely find the material quite effecting, but it doesn’t quite reach the effortless sadness of Sarah Polley’s Away from Her.
Chinese Take-Away (Un Cuento Chino)
From the outset this culture clash drama from Sebastián Borensztein appears set to be little more than yet another foreign title that could be described as “nice” or “pleasant” that has been shipped over to indulge local audiences who don’t want to have to think much when getting their annual foreign language fix. Chinese Take-Away eventually goes a bit deeper than that, but I was still ultimately left a bit deflated by it.
Starring Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes) as Roberto, a hardware store owner who takes in a Chinese visitor (Ignacio Huang as Jun) who has come to Argentina in search of relatives who have since moved on. Yes, there are gags about these two men cannot understand one another, and it all wraps up a little bit too neatly, but Borensztein, who also wrote the screenplay, does find some nice moments amongst the action. The title comes from a rather smart tactic of getting the Chinese take-away delivery boy to translate (Roberto’s lady friend naturally assumed Jun will like the local variation on his national cuisine), and it’s one of the film’s neatest turns.
Still, the movie rarely raises much of a pulse and by film’s end it feels a little bit too ho-hum with the stakes barely raised and the drama failing to grip. Still, fine performances and a genuinely lovely rapport between Darin and Huang make this Chinese Take-Away not an entire waste of time, but the old adage of being hungry for more once it’s over will surely apply.
Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes)
An instant must see for fans of the horror and thriller genres, this latest film from director Juame Balagueró (Rec and it’s sequel) is a superbly executed slice of psychological mind games that takes place within a Spanish apartment complex. Starring Luis Tosar (Cell 211) as a seemingly ordinary, police doorman enacting some sort of disturbing and sinister plot against the residents of his building, Sleep Tight weasels its way into the brain and its disturbing acts of psychological trauma continue to produce chills long after the credits have rolled (just as they do to the characters, I presume).
Sleep Tight isn’t the grotesque type of scary film that fans of Balagueró’s famed “found footage” titles may expect, and given he has filmed his latest in a near identical setting that’s probably for the best. A less confident director would probably feel the need to throw in splashes of red periodically just to satisfy gore hounds, but Balagueró is smart enough to know that the gut punch of his final scenes is more than enough to unsettle viewers without destroying the atmosphere with unnecessary blood and violence.
It’s rare for a film to be so open about its mystery so early on, and yet still be able to wring shudders of fear from audiences. We’re clued in early on as to what this deceptively cunning doorman is up to, and yet Sleep Tight never loses its rhythm and ability to shock. An excellent central performance by the unsettling Tosar and Marta Etura (Seven Minutes) as the focus of his evil plans, as well as a wonderful visual style that nicely utilises the widescreen format to some great effect make this not only one of the festival’s finest entries, but one of the keenest titles of the year.