Daily Archives: March 18, 2013

¡Viva! 2013 #4: Las largas vacaciones del 36 (Long Holidays of 1936, Spain 1976)


vivalogoThe Cornerhouse programme of ‘Matinee Classics’ continues during the ¡Viva! Festival so that there is a rare chance to see a screening of an earlier Spanish classic film in the usual Sunday/Wednesday afternoon slot. Las largas vacaciones del 36, directed by Jaime Camino, is a familiar reflection on the experience of the Civil War, made more intriguing by its release in 1976 during the last days of the Francoist regime and soon after the release of Cría cuervos by Carlos Saura (a clever and popular satire of the impact of the regime).

I wasn’t able to find out much about the film before or after the screening, so I’ll have to respond directly to what I saw. I’d classify the it as a family melodrama, except that its style is relatively muted and high emotion is reserved for the closing stages of the film. The title refers to the holidays taken by a couple of bourgeois Barcelona families each year in a village in the hills surrounding the city. In July 1936 the families are in their summer residences when the Civil War begins and they remain there trapped by the war until the fall of Barcelona in early 1939.

The script focuses on two families with one firmly associated with the Republican cause and the other much more pragmatic. This second family reluctantly hides a rich fascist and his partner (and their car) but is then ready to receive the Francoists in 1939. There is a flurry of action in the first few days of the war as the local Republicans secure the village, but for most of the film narrative, the families have to pass the time, finding ways to survive as food runs out and establishing a temporary school for their children. The focus on children ties in with the censorship demands of Francoist cinema (which proscribed what kinds of films would be sanctioned for production), except that these are rather older teenagers. There is nothing very remarkable about the script or the characters, except perhaps the role of the maid Encarta (Angela Molina) who is quite outspoken and has a relatively explicit sexual encounter with one of the teenage boys that perhaps challenged the censor at the time. However, though the film appears quite conventional it does offer an interesting take on the impact of the war including the experience of both boredom and hunger and what it might have been like to have been a middle-class teenager cocooned from the action. The performances are very good and visually the narrative benefits from its unique location above the city. I was reminded of British ‘home front’ films from 1939-45 when characters watch the bombing raids on the city below, signified by the searchlight beams and fires. The film won a prize at Berlin in 1976 and it fits well into the home front genre of war films.

One of the interesting aspects of watching what I presumed was a 35mm print was the variable quality of the reels – damage at reel changes is to be expected, but it was noticeable that some reels had gone ‘pink’ while others had retained a good colour balance. Overall it was fine. In the days of digital projection it’s good to be reminded of both the good and bad points of archive film. I would certainly recommend the film as an archive treat. It shows again on Wednesday this week with the chance to discuss the film with Carmen Herrero, Head of Spanish at Manchester Metropolitan University.

¡Viva! 2013 #3: La vida empieza hoy (Life Begins Today, Spain 2010)

Rosita (Mariana Cordero) browses a sex shop in the hope of finding something to stimulate her husband.

Rosita (Mariana Cordero) browses a sex shop in the hope of finding something to stimulate her husband’s interest.

vivalogoI can’t help but compare this film to the recent British attempts to directly address the over 60s cinema audience, but Life Begins Today predates them. It’s also, at least for me, funnier and more poignant than The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet or Song For Marion. The narrative is built around several pensioners who attend a ‘sex class’ in a local education centre. The class is run by an indefatigable teacher who wants her students (with ages ranging from 60s to 80s) to recognise that sex should still be important in their lives. We get to see the impact of the classroom experience on three students and their various family members and relationships. The individual characters are quite well-drawn and varied enough to maintain our interest.

Pepe is the youngest and taken aback that his mistress treats his retirement as a prompt to leave him. Does he want to re-kindle some passion in his relationship with his wife Rosita? He doesn’t try – but she realises that it is up to her. Herminia is trying to lead her own life after the return of her singleton daughter – who seems to treat her as a possible dementia sufferer. Fortunately she bumps into Julián who has returned after many years from Argentina. He doesn’t need much encouragement, which is just as well because his son doesn’t know how to receive him and as convention demands it is his teenage grandson who understands him best. So far, so familiar sex/age comedy. More intriguing perhaps is the representation of the angry and repressed widow Juanita who in the end gets the last laugh from the film.

I hesitate to comment too much on the success of the comedy in the film. It’s all too easy to be entertained by a film in a language that you don’t know – ignoring or not noticing the aspects that in an English language film would be off-putting. Still, I wonder if the fact that both script and direction are by women means that many of the traps in this kind of filmmaking are avoided or handled more successfully. My experience is that, very often, female filmmakers deal with sex and sexuality much more effectively than men.

There was a very good house in Cornerhouse’s biggest screen for this showing and they all seem to have a good time. I suppose it’s asking too much for a UK distributor to pick up the film for more screenings? One last thought, are masturbation jokes finally spreading beyond the usual teenage boys comedy? Have filmmakers finally realised that most people masturbate at some point?

Trailer (in Spanish, no subs):