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La duquesa de Benamejí (1949)
The duchess and the bandit
This is a very interesting Spanish film of the late forties and deserves a look if you like period and adventure movies plenty of passion and melodrama. That kind of films you like despite of its ingenuity or definitely because of it.
The love affair between the duchess (Amparo Rivelles) and a legendary bandit (Jorge Mistral) settled in Sierra Morena and whom is secretly loved by a gypsy girl (also portrayed by Rivelles!) was also a big box office success at the time and it was a pity that Spanish film industry didn't follow the path revealed for this 'spanish western' to make a genre.
The landscape of Sierra Morena (as in American westerns) with its caves and mountains plays also an important role in the film, beautifully shoot-ed outdoors in black and white. Some sequences are specially remarkable, like the opening musical one, or another one where the duchess conquer the heart of the bandits with singing and Spanish folk song. The film begins with a certain mood of comedy, but then it finish tragically, and may be you can't help some tears if you are a little sensitive.
Based on a play of Manuel and Antonio Machado from the Republic era, the film has also some points in common with Goyescas (1942) in the plot and the female characters portrayed by the same actress. But as that one recreate a historical period and has a happy ending, this one goes right to your heart and the roots of melodrama.
María de la O (1959)
A gypsy western
Probably the most representative film of those starred by Lola Flores in 50s, recommended if you are interested on Spanish folk music and culture, and specially on gypsy people.
The acting isn't very good (Lola never was an extraordinary actress, but she was always Her, what is enough) but there is a plot, odd situations, nice music, love and drama. Other trouble in my personal opinion is that the movie need a better script, and the love affair, for example, is not enough developed and solved.
A young rich man owner of a big country property is shooted and wounded when he goes for a ride with his horse. Rescued and treated by a group of gypsies he knows Maria de la O and they get in on together and he even promise her to marriage. They both have other friends pretending their love and...i'm not going to spoil you the film and tell you if there's a happy end or not. The only thing i can say is that its not a very Hollywood made one. So watch it!
Based in a Spanish folk song and with a previous version in 30s the movie is in many ways a western settled in Andalucía. Not with Indians but gypsies.
Todos eran culpables (1962)
Peñíscola is not Malibú
León Klimovsky made in a Spain a lot of low budget films of all genres and among them some thrillers, like this customary crime story about a girl who dies during a party of rich and stupid youths in a mediterranean holidays town (Peñíscola) in Spain.
It's not the worst of his movies and at the beginning promises a lot, with some moments visually interesting, but then as the footage runs become rather mediocre.
Acting is not convincing and besides, though the film is intriguing and you have to remain watching until the final to know what happen to that girl, the story and even the seaside scenarios offered much more than the results showed. Insufficient dialog and a script with not enough deepness spoil the development of the plot too. Nor the resolution is brilliant.
Social critic, a film of young rebels on the pattern of James Dean, crime and detectives story. All this ways are involved but the achievements are poor, despite a correct editing and some sparks like the party sequence or some musical numbers outside of the plot.
But probably the worst of the film are it's moral pretensions, with a so notable actor as Luis Prendes declaiming ethical speeches that sound a little ridiculous.
El hombre que se quiso matar (1942)
"We are too much concerned about life and that's why we are unhappy"
Based on a tale from Wenceslao Fernández Florez, an Spanish writer known by his peculiar sense of dark humor, this dark comedy was the first film made by the prolific Rafael Gil, one of the most representatives from Franco era.
A Very watchable moral fable because the story is funny and also invites you to think about life and society at the same time you laugh or smile. The only negative point is an acting too much theatrical in some of the secondary players and an anodyne direction.
The plot is about a man (Antonio Casal) with a lot of disgrace and affliction in his life, with no job, no girlfriend and no friends who decides to kill but fails in his attempt several times. But when he announces in public his suicide begins to feel free and with no social prejudices and as he changes, his life begin to change too.
Some people criticize the film because many points of the plot are not credible. It is necessary to consider that the purpose wasn't to develop a realistic plot.
In fact if you want to enjoy this film think you are going to watch, how could I say, a Marx Brothers movie but with a little more serious plot and a darker treatment !!
It's what you can also see in films like "El malvado carabel" (based in a Fernández Florez tale too). And a sense of dark humor very present in many other Spanish writers of the time like Mihura, Tono, and later in Azcona.
Suspiros de España (1939)
Paradoxes of a mythic title shot during a national tragedy
This is a mythic title of Spanish folkloric cinema, directed by the responsible of the superb 'La Verbena de La Paloma', Benito Perojo, with two of that cast on the screen (Miguel Ligero and Roberto Rey) besides the starring of the likable copla singer Estrellita Castro.
In fact, the popular tune composed in 1903 that titled the movie has been considered for a long time (and probably is still nowadays) a sort of unofficial Spanish anthem. As it is known, one of the trouble of the official is that it lacks of lyrics. Well, 'Suspiros de España' neither had lyrics when the film was made, but they were written for it !! And since then, it has had at least two more !!
In addition to all this, the film was made during the Spanish Civil War by the Franco side and it is one of the handful of movies filmed at the UFA German studios, with German crew, during the nazi regime, as a part of Hitler's help to Franco during the war. There's a recent film by Fernando Trueba, La Niña de tus ojos (1998), about this odd episode of Spanish cinema.
So, you may think that the film has a lot of nazi or fascist ideology on it. No, it hasn't !! It's just a sentimental folk comedy (and by the way rather mediocre!) !And one of its big paradoxes is that the popular tune that Estrellita Castro performed with vocals here for the first time, and then has been performed by a lot of artists, became immediately later in the tune for the people that after the war went to exile !!
Well, all these things are involved with this film, but notwithstanding all this, it can be also considered in other ways: has it artistic quality ? Was it enjoyable?
I have to say that I've just watched it and it disappointed me in many aspects. There is a later version produced by Perojo and directed by Ramón Torrado, Suspiros de Triana (1955), that in my personal opinion is rather better, though is fair to say that the final minutes of this one are superior, and also the performance of the main tune and the highness of the patriotic feelings of the Spanish immigrants in the elegant boat sequences. Inmediatly after Estrella singing of Suspiros, both Miguel Ligero and her sing and dance a joyfully and funny rumba at the boat deck. The best of the film, alongside with the final song.
But the rest of the footage is quite vulgar and it's clear that despite the UFA help, Perojo hasn't the budget of 'La Verbena de La Paloma'. Or may be he wasn't comfortable working with the Germans, who knows...The fact is that the film is badly shot and worse acted at many times. For example, Miguel Ligero is horrible in this film, making faces all the time, or quarreling loudly with her sister in the plot. It tries to be funny but it isn't, and nothing to do with other of his films or the performance of Antonio Riquelme in the later version.
Black Jack (1950)
Smuggling from other movies
Both the plot and the visual appearance of this very unknown film reminds the spectator in some whiles of masterpieces of that time like 'The Third Man', 'Casablanca', 'The Lady of Shangai', 'Beat the Devil', or even 'Mr Arkadin' (an strange and marvelous co production filmed in Spain as well) but it's quality is a sidereal distance far away from them.
Plot is a little complicated, characters are not completely credible and Sanders is a little miscast in this story settled in Mallorca about an smuggler and his ethical doubts. As in many co productions you feel that the result is composed of glued parts and so the whole thing doesn't work as properly as it should.
Anyway, has moments that deserve the watching: A funny José Nieto telling Agnes Morehead she is as beautiful as a fruit in season (though may be you have to be Spanish to enjoy it). And some other beautiful: the cave sequence, the opening with the mills (with remembrances from Orson Welles), besides some glimmer of magic in the acting of Sanders, Morehead and Roc. All the outdoor footage in black and white at the Mallorca seaside is also remarkable.
And of course, the musical sequence (magistrally shot) with Lola Flores and Manolo Caracol making some flamenco sketches at the top of their art is something all spaniards should be proud of
Ceremonia sangrienta (1973)
Soft gore and morbid sex
Catalonian director Jorge Grau made in Spain in the 60s films as nice as "Una historia de amor", or as interesting as "El Espontáneo". In the 70s he also reached commercial success with the not negligible "La Trastienda". Always with a very personal style, most of the times very elegant too, as it can be seen at the end of his career in movies so underrated as "El Extranjero de la Calle Cruz del Sur" or "Tiempos Mejores".
In the seventies he also made in joint production with other countries some horror films, like the funny and disturbing "No profanes el sueño de los muertos" or this cult and historical approach to the vampires myth. Both films are probably which he is probably best known internationally.
The trouble with "Ceremonia Sangrienta" is that in my opinion it lacks of the gracefulness in the stage of other of his films, it hasn't those polish camera movements, and it is plenty of zoom movements and closeups.
May be someone can say that help the story creating a creepy atmosphere but it is not only a formal matter. In my opinion there are also in the script some aspects not enough developed, like the relation between the marquis and his wife. In that sense, the character of Lucía Bose is far more plenty of information for the spectator than Espartano Santoni's which is not completely clear about his feelings and willings.
Anyway, the film has creepy moments and probably is a " must see" for horror (and blood) lovers, specially if you like some kind of 'soft gore' with a certain doses of morbid sex. One odd thing is that you don't know if the marquis is a vampire or not. And the ambiguous final has some impact too.
Muere una mujer (1965)
A thriller without stress
Mario Camus, one of the best and more recognized Spanish directors ('La Colmena', 'Los Santos Inocentes'), made in the 60 some remarkable films like 'Young Sanchez' or 'Con el viento solano'.
In this one you can note the hand of the great Carlos Saura in a story that launches with Javier (Alberto Closas), a man who cheats her wife Marisa (Mabel Karr). This high class couple is not very happy but what seems to be a drama soon become a thriller when a murder takes place and Marisa dies from a heart attach at the discovering of the corpse. The main suspect is Javier.
As usual in his films, Camus shoot this one with a lot elegance, firm and steady steps, and the cinematography is also beautiful. Set in Barcelona, it is also a nice document of how was the city at the time, the cars or even the flats, with a superb production design. In that way the film is pleasure and the story is also interesting till the end.
But the film has also some trouble: One is the choice of Alberto Closas for the main role; though he was a great actor and his performance is nice, he was mostly a comedy actor and despite of his always big presence on screen is not completely credible.
Besides, the plot is not developed exactly as a thriller, there's not the strain in that sort of movies and though Javier has to work to prove his innocence he doesn't seem stressed for it and, in fact, the police is never a menace for him (may be because because he is rich!!) like in similar situation we saw Henry Fonda in Hitchcock's 'The Wrong Man' or even Closas in the amazing 'Muerte de un Ciclista'. In addition of all this, is too obvious from the beginning to the top of the film who is the murderer.
Anyway, as i wrote above, the films is very watchable if you simply like movies (there are many Italian pictures of this period similar in plot and images treatment to this one, and very few are better).
Beautiful and young Mara Goyanes is delicious in the role of a silly cabaret girl and in the cast is also a magnificent actor: Tomas Blanco. Trouble is that is dubbed in the copy i watch on TV.
Surprisingly good portrait of the convulse awakens of a teenager in a convulse time
If you have an average notion of Spanish cinema and you mention Francisco Lara Polop probably come to your mind that kind of low budget and nudity comedies filmed in the time of the transition to democracy, most of all of very bad quality.
Nevertheless, he made some interesting films like "La Patria del Rata", he got an honorific award in Berlin for "El Cabezota" and...also is the director of this surprisingly good movie (!) about the awakens to life of a high- class teenager in Madrid in those 70s, plenty of social critic to the people who ruled Spain then.
¿May be that the reason this movie is not enough known? Starred by french actress Annie Belle, the film deals with drugs (heroin) and some lesbianism, and (what probably is at least as important) with the big hypocrisy of the upper class and even the selfish of the parents of this young lady (Teresa Gimpera and Javier Escrivá), more concerned about the man political career than the health of her daughter.
Im not going to say it is a masterpiece, but almost everything in this film fits very well considering the dramatic story, even the nudity and sex scenes, what is a big difference with the silly films i referred above.
All the cast (that also includes Silvia Tortosa and Virginia Mataix in one her first roles) made a very good job, and the direction is particularly smooth and agile, like an American film.
Very watchable (and not only because the bodies of the various ladies you will see without clothes) for everyone who like dramatics real life stories of all time and that not get old.
Tiempo de tormenta (2003)
A beautiful unknown gem about real life
What happens if you have affection to your mate or even you love it and you also fall in love with other person and you don't want to hurt your good old friend in life because you know is weak? What happens if you are conscious about that who has been together with you for years needs you and if you let him down you'll make a big damage and even put his or her life in risk? May be some other movies have been concerned about this deal occasionally, but i don't remember anyone with the strength and deepness of this beautiful and graceful film with big drama but also very tender moments. Because the film is actually very tender and the script has its funny moments too.
Olea's direction is absolutely solid and the story is very well built, may be because one of the writers is the detective novelist Alicia Giménez Bartlett. But the four main members of the cast are also superb in their roles: In this sense, the chemistry between Verdú and Sanz that they have developed since they were teenagers in films like "El año de las luces" works, and the acting of Barranco and Grandinetti is also very remarkable.
But as many other times Sanz is the king of the screen here, and of course of his ironical dialogs, so plenty of the sense of humor of a loser that is difficult to avoid a big sympathy for him. The scene in which Barranco and him have a night of revelry is one of the big highlights of the film though all of it is a big piece of real and tender life.
The only thing that doesn't convince me is the ending, thinking it could be different. But i have watched it just one time. May be i change my opinion the next!!