Five Spanish films for the discerning British viewer.

by Brit Es Magazine

The following list is not a top 5, but merely a list of five Spanish films, in no particular order, which British viewers might not be familiar with. You may have noticed that I have left out filmmakers such as Almodóvar and Amenábar, and films such as El Orfanato and Mar Adentro. This was done deliberately, since those directors and films are already quite well known by the average film goer. So, on to the list!

The following list is not a top 5, but merely a list of five Spanish films, in no particular order, which British viewers might not be familiar with. You may have noticed that I have left out filmmakers such as Almodóvar and Amenábar, and films such as El Orfanato and Mar Adentro. This was done deliberately, since those directors and films are already quite well known by the average film goer. So, on to the list![su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]1. El Día De La Bestia (1995). Day Of The Beast.
El Día De La Bestia is, arguably, the crown jewel of Basque director Álex De La Iglesia’s filmography. It tells the story of Father Ángel (the late great Álex Angulo), a Catholic priest on a bizarre mission to sin as viciously as humanly possible, so that he can get into Satan’s inner circle in order to find out where the Anti-Christ will be born, so he can destroy it. On his journey, Father Ángel is helped by an Italian TV psychic (Armando De Razza) and a satanist metalhead from Carabanchel (Santiago Segura).

A cult film through and through, El Día De La Bestia is hilariously dark and macabre. It’s a true pleasure watching the meek Father Ángel engage in petty crime, robbing beggars, accidentally killing his friend’s mother and seeking unholy music such as “Napalm Dez” and “Hace Decé”, while his metalhead ally feeds LSD to his disabled father. All this happening in a Madrid so hellish that one can only wonder if anyone would even notice if the spawn of Satan actually did appear.

Reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, the film, in all its low-budget glory, is filled with over-the-top slapstick violence, hilarious dialogue and a ridiculous plot. A true classic.[/su_note][su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]2. Vacas (1992). Cows.
Quietly munching on grass, with indifferent, peaceful eyes, the cows watch everything. They, who are killed for their meat, enslaved for their milk and treated as property, are, in Julio Médem’s haunting debut film, passive witnesses to the wickedness of human folly. Vacas chronicles the bitter rivalry between two neighbouring families throughout three generations, from the trenches of Byzcaia during the Carlist Wars to the cruel fighting of the Spanish Civil War.

In this beautifully shot drama, Médem shows us dreamlike images of an idyllic Basque countryside, in which you can almost smell the earth, the grass, the manure, and the viscera. With this, he is inviting us to, like the mad (or not) elder Iríguibel, take the point of view of the cow. To quietly ruminate there, while in front you those crazy humans are running around killing each other, hating each other, envying each other, descending into madness and depression and engaging in incestuous relationships.

Vacas is a powerful film that will have a tight grip on your gut long after the ending credits roll. You should go watch it now, after you finish reading this article.[/su_note][su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]3.Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley (1998). Torrente, the stupid arm of the law

This is a bit of a controversial pick, but I fully and unashamedly stand by it. Torrente (played by Santiago Segura, who also writes and directs), is not a good cop. He’s not even a good person. He’s a drunkard, a racist, homophobic, fascist, sexist, disgusting, immoral, corrupt pig without a single redeemable quality. He’s even an Atlético Madrid supporter. But if his personality is ugly, his looks are just as awful. The man sweats profusely, his greasy hair is glued to his head and his clothes are dirty and stained beyond hope. If Spain were Dorian Gray, then José Luis Torrente would be the painting it keeps stashed way in the attic. Yet, despite all this, he is the main character of the film. The guy we have to follow around for an hour and a half, while he uncovers some kind of drug traffic ring. And it’s pure joy.

There’s a long history of books and films that put an ugly character centre stage. It’s a classic narrative arc, going as far back as Dickens’s Scrooge, and more recently a whole string of bad cop films, such as Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant (or Nicolas Cage in the remake), and Irvine Welsh’s drug addict copper in Filth. These are the stories in which the protagonist is a total bastard who, after all sorts of situations and antics, either ends up learning the error of his ways or paying the price for all the bad deeds he has done. The great thing of Torrente is that there is no learning. There is no redemption and there is no paying the price.

It’s a bold, brave move from Santiago Segura, to truly go all the way with his creation, to have the nerve to allow his character to unapologetically go as far as he can in his horribleness, knowing this could very well alienate most viewers. I mean, he even gets kids gruesomely killed by recklessly enlisting them to help him with his case! Torrente that is, not Santiago Segura, as far as I know.

Instead of alienating viewers, though, the film became a massive box office and critical success in Spain, which opened the way for Segura to write and direct a whole bunch of lame sequels that kind of stained Torrente’s reputation, which is too bad. But do yourself a favour, ignore the sequels, get the first one, laugh away at all the perversion and filth, and then take a shower. [/su_note][su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]4. Bienvenido Mister Marshall (1953). Welcome Mister Marshall
Bienvenido Mister Marshall is a social satire comedy directed by Luis García Berlanga and written by Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem. Given that, in 1953, Spain was deep under Franco’s rule, any form of social critique was a bit… frowned upon, so the mere existence of this film is quite impressive. But not only does it exists, it is a true masterpiece. A poignant, profound and hilarious portrait of not only the Spain of that time, but of any human being who has placed all hopes and dreams in something out of their control.

The film takes place in a small town of Villar Del Río, where the locals hear about the impending visit of American diplomats during the Marshall Plan initiative (an American programme to provide aid to war-torn Europe). Convinced the Americans will come bearing gifts, the citizens of Villar Del Río, frenetically prepare for their arrival. The mayor makes the most delightfully eloquent speech one has ever heard, they write a welcome song and, of course, they disguise the town with an Andalusian theme (figuring this is a type of Spain the visitors will be more familiar with), and proceed to make a list of what each one of the locals wants the Americans to bring them; a tractor to help in the farm, a cow, a sewing machine, etc…

The last part of the film focuses on the actual dreams each of the archetypal characters have on the eve of the visitor’s arrival. While they are all hilarious, they are also deeply heartbreaking. These are people who work from sunrise to sundown and have nothing, except maybe a sack of potatoes, to show for it. People who feel trapped, with little to no opportunities to ever achieve something better for themselves and their families. It’s tricky to make a comedy out of such vulnerable characters, but Berlanga handles the tone of the film with virtuosity; effortlessly blending slapstick comedy, surreal imagery, musical sequences, hysterical dialogues and a stylistic, groundbreaking storytelling approach.
When it premièred in Cannes, the American actor Edward G. Robinson apparently felt tremendously insulted that the film dared to show an American flag flowing down a gutter and, being a member of the jury, apparently prevented the film from getting the Palme D’Or, but alas, it still managed to get the International Prize and a Special Mention.

A lot has been written about Bienvenido Mister Marshall. Whole books and essays! But that’s not really important for now. What’s really important now is that you go watch the film if you’ve never seen it, or rewatch it if you have. [/su_note][su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]5. Amanece Que No Es Poco (1989). Dawn Breaks, Which Is No Small Thing.
Amanece Que No Es Poco is quite simply a surrealist masterpiece. Written and directed by José Luis Cuerda, it tells the story of a village, its crazy residents and the absurd situations they find themselves in. There is not much of a plot, in the conventional sense of the word, so it’s better if I just give a few examples of what one can expect when watching the film. There is a priest who is received like a rock star when he’s giving mass (he even has some Belgian tourists who are there for the sole purpose of watching the masterly way he elevates the holy host) a farmer who gives a surprisingly touching speech to his favourite pumpkin, an Argentinian writer who writes Faulkner’s August Light, which is unforgiving due to the locals true devotion to the works of Faulkner (and besides, last year he used to wear a horrendous hat), men who grow out of the ground like trees, a group of South Americans who sometimes ride bicycles and sometimes smell nice, a character who’s always trying to swap characters with the others, a town meeting to decide which role each resident will have (“And as whore, Mercedes.”), a group of armed men who are politely invading the town, the town’s only black man who is not allowed to attend mass, an old man who killed his wife because she was really mean, and the Civil Guard who has a beef with the sun for daring to rise on the wrong side, and countless others.

While none of this makes any sense, there is of course a big dose of social commentary (especially in the characters of the Priest, the Mayor and the Civil Guard). It’s outrageously funny, endlessly quotable (if you speak Spanish, at least…) and sometimes even moving.[/su_note]
So, dear readers, which films, by their absence, make this list an unpardonable sin against cinema? What would your list be? Feel free to share it with us in the comment section.

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