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Selected Film Reviews From Spanish Cinema Now 09

Little Indi
directed by Marc Recha
starring Marc Soto, Sergi López, Eulalia Ramón, Eduardo Noriega
Little Indi’s an odd one. This movie begins with the kind of charming and bright animated credits that might lead us to imagine a sweet film about Spain's country folk. That's not quite what we get. Instead we're in the Catalunya countryside where times are tough.

Though the movie's pace is unhurried, everyone is quietly scrambling for whatever money they can bring in. The cops are on the take, as is the staff of the prison where the mother of our teenage hero Arnau currently resides. Arnau is played with aloofness and quiet intensity by a spectacularly gorgeous newcomer named Marc Soto. Are Spaniards the world's most beautiful men? It would seem so from the first few films in this year Spanish Cinema Now crop.

Arnau trains small birds to sing in the evidently well-known "Singing Finches of Catalunya" competition. He's good at it, too. Surrounded by a family that's only half there and that may be involved in things mildly nefarious -- Uncle (Sergi López), sister (Eulalia Ramón), brother (Eduardo Noriega) and so on -- Arnau moves between them all with deliberation and hesitation. It appears to him (and to us, in fact) that the system is raked toward the rich, so this young man is trying to raise money to pay for a lawyer to get mom out of jail. But given his nodding acquaintance with the world and how it works, he seems doomed to fail.

As co-writer (with Nadine Lamari) and director, Recha likes to show rather than tell, which is generally fine. He pace is slow; incidents build up one by one. Chief among these is the greyhound racing that involves Arnau and his uncle -- and the near-dead fox Arnau finds at the river bank and nurses back to health. The director is particularly good at capturing the sad, almost frightening sense of vulnerability that hangs over the boy, the birds, the fox. With maturity might come the realization that you cannot blame nature's creations for simply being true to what they are. Arnau is not there yet, and so he does, and with this blame and anger comes the most unsettling scene in the film.
The widescreen images are well composed and lighted (cinematography by the estimable Hélène Louvart (The Last Day, The Beaches of Agnes), and the sense of place and a time that, while it is now might just as well be eternal, is specific and real. If I am not jumping up and down in praise and pleasure, it's because nobody on view is moving that actively or positively. To call Little Indi downbeat is to be very euphemistic. But yes, it does seem like life.

Little Indi screens at the Walter Reade Theater
Saturday, December 5, at 1:30; Tuesday, December 8, at 1:30; and Wednesday, December 9, at 8:30

directed by Gabe Ibáñez
starring Elena Anaya
We know we're somewhere weird as, in the very first shot of Gabe Ibáñez's dazzling Hierro, a giant lizard crosses the road and a car zooms over it. From the looks of things, a distraught mother is driving too fast with her son beside her and very soon we are treated to one of, maybe the best, cinema car crash ever witnessed. No, it's not complete with huge explosions and muchos effectos especiales. Instead Señor Ibáñez (shown at right) simply shoots superbly, edits with such precision and uses sound for all its worth that we're there inside the car with the vulnerable pair experiencing every jolt and smash and roll that ends with -- oh, god -- a moment of such odd silence and beauty, and then...

OK: after the fact, I questioned that the smaller object would have landed prior to the larger, but maybe I don't know my math or physics. But I do know my cinema and this is superb stuff. So's the location. The director and his writers -- Javier Gullón (who wrote last years terrific El rey de la montaña) and Jesus de la Vega -- have set this tale on El Hierro Island, the southernmost point of Europe.

The film tells the story of a young marine biologist and single mother (her best friend and co-worker calls her "strange") and her son, who head off the to the island for a work project, but before they arrive -- whoops. No more plot. Find out for yourself.

I will say that the FSLC program notes got it wrong: No "wave" of anything "goes missing" on Hierro. Only two. However, the two are vital to those who miss them. The filmmakers sustain their 90 minutes extremely well; while they serve up only a touch of blood and corpse-gore, there's plenty of surprise, shock, suspense and other things we enjoy with our mysteries. The water motif is ever-present, with a bird motif not far behind; both are used with great imagination & feeling in the film's real and in its dreamlike moments.
I do wish the moviemakers had thought a bit harder about one particular plot point: the dog. It is present so often until the one scene in which it absolutely must be there. And, then? What's up, boys -- did someone drop the ball? Otherwise, their movie is a treat, and so is Elena Anaya, the very thin but voluptuous leading lady who is also a fine actress. I'm primed for whatever these guys cook up next. I should also mention that the crack cinematography and editing are by Alejandro Martínez and Enrique Garcia respectively.

Hierro screens at the Walter Reade Theater
Friday, December 4, at 4:30 and Sunday, December 6, at 5:10

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