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Terry J. Lipko
Simon Bolivar fought over 100 battles against the Spanish Empire in South America. He rode over 70,000 miles on horseback. His military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great. His army never conquered -- it liberated.
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A free-Spirit in a time of repressive, authoritarian morals, handsome young Mateo is imprisoned in a psychiatric institution in the province of Extramadura. It's clear that this "hospital" is more of a squalid prison for society's undesirables than anything else, as demonstrated by the heavy hand of the ruling director Burgos. Among the inmates is the frail, broken Lola, driven mad by the sexual abuse she has suffered her entire life from her father figures. The worthy Mateo is drawn to the heartbreaking Lola, and as he teaches her to dream again, their hearts intertwine and their passions fling them headlong into a mighty assault on the walls of the institution. Written by
Courtesy Phidelphia Film Society
THE SANDMAN (EL HOMBRE DE ARENA) was made in Spain in 2007, written and directed by José Manuel González: for some reason the DVD has not been released in USA format but the film can be seen courtesy of the foreign films' section on On Demand on television. It is such a well crafted and written film that surely that exposure will result in the release of a version available to wider audiences here on Amazon.com.
There is a preamble to this film: an old tramp (Juan Llaneras) is found to carry a photograph that matches a photograph of a woman's mother holding the girl as a child. She takes the photograph to her guardian (Mercedes Sampietro) who then relates the history of the girl's birth and history. This takes us back to Spain in the 1960s in a 'hospital' (aka asylum for mentally unsuitable patients), a prison like atmosphere controlled by Burgos (Alberto Jiménez), the head physician whose obsession with control and order has resulted in a 'method' of keeping the patients/inmates manageable. Burgos' assistant is a physician Carmen (Irene Visedo) who is compassionate and who is against the cruel treatment of the patients - especially the sexual freedom nurse/guard Luis (Héctor Noas) has with the women 'patients'. A young, handsome young man Mateo (Hugo Silva) is brought in as a patient because of an inappropriate fight, and when Mateo meets Burgos an immediate inimical relationship forms: Mateo has the courage to criticize Burgos' hobby - creating model ships - and Burgos' revenge is to put Mateo in solitary confinement 'to set him straight about the rules and regulations of the hospital.' Mateo is unjustly confined and upon release from solitary he finds the living conditions deplorable: his roommates include an odd character called Frenchy (Samuel Le Bihan) who gradually becomes his friend. His only reliable friend is the delivery man Joao (Miguel de Lira) who bonds with Mateo as he brings food supplies of the hospital - and cigarettes to Mateo.
Among the many women patents is on Lola (María Valverde) who has a long history of physical and sexual abuse as a child and committed a crime of passion to free herself from the mother who did not protect her from the father's cruelty. She is beautiful but almost mute and resigned to spend the rest of her life in the hospital. She captures Mateo's eye and he becomes her protector, even after she is assaulted by the lusty Luis and becomes pregnant as a result. Burgos blames Mateo for the pregnancy and punishes him further but gradually Carmen softens the situation and becomes close to both Mateo and Lola. Mateo, through a number of heroic acts proves himself to the inmates and to Burgos and plans to escape with Lola with the assistance of Joao. At the last moment Mateo must leave alone and Lola remains behind, cared for by the gentle Carmen. The rest of the story is fairly easy to guess as the film ends with Carmen being the guardian who has raised Lola's daughter always insisting that the now grown woman was deeply loved by both her mother Lola and by Lola's true love, Mateo - who has become an old 'tramp' in the streets. These are not spoilers because the story is in the telling, not in a series of surprises that could not be shared from the beginning.
The depiction of life in the mental institution is harsh and there are many secondary secrets we learn about that make both the patients and the staff three-dimensional people. Hugo Silva gives notice as a most impressive screen presence and fine actor: his future in film seems very bright. The entire cast is excellent and the pacing of the story and the manner in which the details of the events at the hospital are shared is with minimal dark shadows. This is a very fine Spanish film that deserves a wide audience.
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