No Windmills, please

As in one of the previous programs devoted to women in Spanish film, female characters dominate this new one

Only a mad man would write of Orson Welles that he was a “Spanish filmmaker”, as crazy as he was about Spain. Even his ashes were stored in Andalusia. But Welles was obsessed with Don Quixote, the greatest Spaniard of them all. They were uniquely similar, in that other men typically do not allow impossible dreams to interfere with reality or common sense. Cervantes’ classic haunted Welles for fifteen years and his crazy obsession with the character can only be described as Quixotic. Even though the director’s “private exercise” on Don Quixote remained unfinished, the king of euro-trash Jess Franco made use of, with the kind permission of Oja Kodar, Welles’ archival material, editing it in a postmodernist collage in which he tried to revive Welles’ eccentric vision. In it, Quixote runs into the famous director on the set of his film and thinks he has met Satan.

Besides Welles’ film, Don Quixote was treated as a subject by Chaplin, Pabst and Cerkasov. Nevertheless, none of the cineastes came even close to Jess Franco’s craziness as the nutty Albert Serra in his film Honor de cavalleria, even though their films represent completely opposing interpretations of Cervantes. Serra’s radical minimalist experiment places Cervantes’ heroes in a land art frame in which bodies and land become essential components. We can call it a kind of realism; as if Lav Diaz and Joe Weerasethakul had left the jungle and moved to Catalonia, fascinated by Anselm Adams’ black and white photographs. What they have in common is an almost identical treatment of a damned long shot of a sequence, which is contemplative but not necessarily decorative. However, instead of evoking a certain method, Serra likes to be utterly abstract, which is not surprising when we know that he started to work in film after a career in literary theory, Spanish philology, video and theatre.

There are no windmills or the maiden Dulcinea in Serra’s film. What remains are the lonely bodies of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza who speak Catalonian and evoke the spirit of Bresson and Ozu rather than Cervantes by lying around and waiting for something to happen. However, as much as Serra’s radical procedure stands out in this program, it is not the only one that touches the ultimate author margins of contemporary Spanish film. Another such example is the genial-to-raw documentary inclined Jaime Rosales (La Soledad) who portrays two women facing the horrors of Basque terrorism, and shows the destructive power of a fixed camera.

Marc Recha also challenges the outlying borders of Spanish author film (Las manos vacias); he portrays the lives of two couples in a Catalonian village, their loneliness, moments of warmth and minor intrigues, all the while treating the film as view that comes from the other side of the border. Similar obsessions haunt Cesco Gaya (Ficcion) in the lives of people in their thirties. Again, we find the motif of an escape, through the finely nuanced character of a screenwriter who experiences writer’s block and retreats to the Pyrenees.

As in a previous program devoted to women in Spanish film, female characters dominate this new one. Juan Carlos Falcon’s dark humor (La Caja) proves that Luis Berlanga’s spirit lives on, having only moved to the Canary Islands. In another film, whose shots are colored by the sepia tones of Franco’s 1960s, Forastreros by Ventura Pons, women are the pillars of the matriarchate and victims of xenophobia. In Poniente, the author’s heroine faces contemporary xenophobia in the polythene greenhouses populated by hardworking illegal immigrants from Africa. In the documentary Escrito en el cuerpo, directors Javier Estella and Jose Manuel Fandos had to travel all the way to Guatemala to face the victims of male violence. (Dragan Rubeša)