BIFF 2012 #3: Arrugas (Wrinkles Spain, 2011)

Emilio (left) meets his first fellow resident at the care home.

Arrugas is the first of the ‘European Feature’ competition entries that I’ve seen in BIFF 2012. A hand-drawn animation based on a graphic novel by Paco Roca and directed by Ignacio Ferraras, this is an intelligent and carefully structured narrative that packs quite a punch. I managed to approach the film ‘cold’ and I’m glad I did because I think that if I had been anticipating events, the narrative might not have worked as well as it did. But this means I’m reluctant to say too much about the plot or the theme.

The film begins with Emilio, a retired back manager having difficulties living with his son and his family. A retirement home beckons and Emilio finds himself ‘rooming’ with Miguel, a worldly-wise wheeler-dealer who seems far too sharp and aware to be in a retirement home like this. Audiences are probably aware that there are several possible genre narratives that might be developed from this point onwards and I won’t say too much more about what happens.

As the world’s population ages, especially in the developed world – and even more so in the case of the art cinema audience – it is inevitable that we will get more films dealing with the prospect of getting older. When you reach a certain age there is a two-pronged stab of recognition of the problem with aged parents demanding attention and the realisation that, as people live longer, children themselves are vulnerable to the early onset of geriatric diseases (which medical science can contain but not cure). It’s a sobering thought and this film certainly made me think.

The animation form gives director Ferraras the possibility of easily staged fantasy/memory sequences which work very well. I liked the simple hand-drawn style which reminded me of Studio Ghibli (but without the large eyes of manga/anime characters) – I was probably reminded of the scenes in the day-care centre in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Japan 2008). (This link seems to be confirmed by he posting on this animation website.) The music also at moments made me think of Miyazaki Hayao’s composer Joe Hisaishi. Since voices are an important part of the narrative, I did feel at a slight disadvantage via the subtitles. They told me that Miguel has an Argentinian accent but I couldn’t distinguish the Galician speech.

Overall, this is what I would call a humanist film without too much sentimentality. The BIFF brochure describes it as a comedy, but I didn’t smile too often – it was too truthful to be taken lightly. It’s a strong competition entry and a film I’d like to see in UK distribution.

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