Camera Catalonia @ The 37th Cambridge Film Festival

In an not un-timely event, Corina Poore, relishes the series of Catalan films at the Cambridge Film Festival’s CAMERA CATALONIA this year
Corina J Poore

While there is something special about the red-carpet glamour at Cannes, Venice, London, Toronto or Berlin, if you were to ask the punters, they will often cite the intimate atmosphere at the smaller celebrations, such as the Cambridge Film Festival, among their favourites. The famous university town’s annual event attracts the quality, and some big names, but there is an intimacy and a simplicity that keeps it approachable and accessible. After all, in its own words: “It’s a celebration of film – past present and future”.

Many film makers who have had their debut productions screened there have prospered to stardom, among them directors like Christopher Nolan. Using outdoor screenings, even on Grantchester Meadows or the local Lido and other unusual venues, one of the characteristics of this festival is that it includes international themes, aimed at revealing new talents and future stars.

Among this year’s large array of strands was “CAMERA CATALONIA”. Coinciding, as it does, with such tumultuous events in that part of Spain, three innovative fiction films and one documentary, gave an insight into this unique and innvovative culture:

The Next Skin (La Propera peil 2016) directed by Isaki Lacuesta and Isa Campo. in Catalán, French and Spanish, stars Àlex Monner, Emma Suárez (also seen this year in April’s Daughters) Sergi López and Bruno Todeschini. This film is a moving tale of a person believed dead, returning after eight years. The aftermath of his disappearance has affected everyone and this dark thriller weaves around the impact of his disappearance and sudden return on the lives of those he left behind. Like other films dealing with such unexpected returners, like the ‘Return of Martin Guerre’, it brings up sharp questions of what is identity and how grieving family members, (Emma Suárez as his mother Ana) can be torn apart.  Co -written by Fran Araujo the lead character remains ambiguous yet manages to elicit some empathy from the audiences.  Making full use of the stunning location, Diego Dussuel, the director of photography, creates a stunning backdrop for an atmospheric thriller.

Uncertain Glory (Incerta Gloria 2017) starring Núria Prims, Marcel Borrás, Bruna Cuí and Oriol Pla is directed by Agustí Villaronga, renowned for his film ‘Black Bread’ (2010) that has been a huge success, He has kept his production team pretty well intact for this new production and has created an intense and dark film set during the Spanish Civil War. Adapted from the novel of the same name (1954) by Joan Sales, it deals with some autobiographical experiences of betrayals and violence that she herself went through during that difficult time.  Villaronga is adept at dealing with the intensity of human emotions in extreme conditions and here he excels once again., The mise-en-scène and art direction stand out as the lighting and the whole visual experience of this film adds to the strength of the storyline.  A young and somewhat naïve Republican officer (Marcel Borrás) falls deeply in love with a treacherous femme-fatale who only wishes to use him for her own ends.  This tragic situation, in the midst of the war elucidates how a person can survive despite the appalling physical and moral destruction that surrounds them.

Documentary film making is represented with IN THE SAME BOAT (2017). This film  by Rudy Gnutti  stars sociologists, politicians, philosophers and economists like José Mujíca, Zygmunt Bauman, Alex Brendemühl and Nick Hanauer.  This is a succinct and lucid analysis of some of the reasons for the dire inequality in our world today.  Gnutti examines the effects of globalisation, unemployment and the way that the various classes in society are feeling the pinch.

As Zygmut Bauman says in the film: - “… we are already all on the same boat, but what we lack are the oars, you know,  and the engines, with which you can direct this boat in the right direction.”

Divided into chapters, Gnutti also has conversations with people in the street to express the realities on the ground all together he reveals some harsh truths combined with expert analysis from various specialists and offers some ideas for solutions.   José Mujíca, the much-loved ex-president of Uruguay comes out with his down- to -earth views: -

“In world history there have been other globalizations, all controlled by military force. This one was created by economy. We have been unable to establish working global frameworks and are still governed by our nation state mentality “.  He goes on to say that leaders should only dedicate a few days a week for their internal affairs and the rest of the week they should look out towards the world. 

Gnutti reveals that despite much gloom from many, we are, in effect, 100 richer than we were 200 years ago.  Although everyone’s standards have improved, as the pie grows, it is being more unfairly divided.  This film deftly studies conditions in various countries and clarifies many issues many of us have never understood.  Various suggestions are given for solutions to these problems, that would have to be politically acceptable.  Hope, as he makes clear, remains in the choices and decision we make today.

Lastly, there is the wonderful political comedy EL REI BORNI (The One-eyed Kind 2016) by Marc Crehuet based on his own play. This is a claustrophobic, ironic, satirical and extremely funny film.  Lydia (Betsy Túrnez) and her friend Sandra (Ruth Llopis) meet up again on Facebook after many years and decide to have a dinner together with their respective partners.  Sandra’s partner Nacho (Miki Esparbé) has lost an eye to a rubber bullet during a demonstration, and David (Alain Hernández) turns out to have a dark history of his own.  When Lydia decides to leave him, David turns to Nacho for advice that might help him get her back, which has unexpected consequences.

This is an hilarious black comedy, so superbly played by the four characters that there is genuine tension and suspense throughout amidst the laugh-out- loud dialogue and situations that unfold. Rightfully a very successful play, it has been transferred to film with some panache, possibly largely due to the convincing performances.  

Political issues are carefully outlined and end up being trampled through, and as the confusion thickens the tensions rise as they are turn out to be victims of political manipulation of one sort or another.  This is a delightful production both entertaining and thought provoking.