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It is not frequent, at least here in Europe, for private TV channels to produce TV mini series. The state channel here in Spain (RTVE) is renowned for some of its own high-budget productions, which due to competitivity seem to have dried up: in the fight for audience share everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator, such that low-intellectual low-cost frivolity is the order of the day - romantic soap-operas, spectacular police and hospital series, all kinds of silly competitions in which the public show off their abilities and skills one way or another but are usually comical or pitiful, tons and tons of football, numerous programmes focussed on all those famous people blown up out of all proportion, and so on.
Thus, Antena 3TV, a private channel, must be applauded for taking the time, effort and money in producing this TV-mini `Padre Coraje'. First shown in March 2002 in three episodes totalling over 300 minutes, it has again come to our screens these last couple of days, but in two episodes without any reduction in run-time. It is by far preferable to see this telefilm in three episodes.
Based on real facts, `Padre Coraje' tells the story of how a father refuses to rest until those who murdered his son are bought to justice. Well, one might simply have passed over this one, but Benito Zambrano as director arrested my attention, as well as the principal actor, Juan Diego. Zambrano had already shown that he knew how to make excellent drama with his film `Solas' (1999) (qv), and Juan Diego had come to my attention in films such as `Los Santos Inocentes' (1984) (qv), one of the greatest cinematographic achievements in Spain, and `Jarrapellejos' (1987), among others. Both are from the province of Seville in Andalucía.
And therein lies the crux of the matter: Andalucía is not all beautiful beaches and modern hotels and sun, sand, sea and blue skies; there is far more to it, and `Padre Coraje' shows us the seamier side of life in marginal suburbs populated by the most varied `down-and-outs' - drug-addicts, traffickers, prostitutes, winos, thieves .. In this case it is the city of Jerez de la Frontera, otherwise historically known as Xèrez, and from where we get the English name of the popular drink called Sherry.
We have a saying in Spanish, used by the Andalucía Government in its publicity, which says `Andalucía, no hay más que una' (There is only one Andalucía). Too true: and it has produced some of Spain's greatest geniuses - Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca, Camerón de la Isla, Antonio Gala ... the list goes on.
Benito Zambrano searched hard and long for actors with genuine Jerezano accents, complete with that identifiable lisping pronunciation of practically all sibilant sounds: the result is at once endearing and electrifying, lending absolute authenticity to some heroic interpretations, laden with that touch of Mediterranean nervousness, and the slang of the underworld. Juan Diego puts in an excellent performance - but he is overshadowed by several of the lesser players giving us memorable rôles of the down and outs in today's dehumanised cities. Macarena Gómez as La Susi deserves special mention for her superb portrayal of a yonqui beyond all salvation, displaying extreme concentration; though in a much smaller part, Paca Barrera as Isabelita `La Monja' offers a highly intense interpretation which just leaves you gaping in wonder. Mariana Cordero as Juan Diego's wife also plays an outstanding interpretation, especially during the first hour, displaying huge grief so genuinely - and so difficult to carry off. Other lesser parts, played by Antonio de la Torre, Manolo Caro, Raquel Infante, etc., are beautifully carried out.
Vicente Romero as `El Maquea' is phenomenal as a puffed-up small-time criminal: his part, especially in the latter stages is important, thus requiring enormous concentration to keep the characterization on the rails.
You might feel that the acting is `over the top', exaggerated: however you must bear in mind firstly the Mediterranean excitability en general, and secondly that these people are drug-addicts who have dropped out of mainstream life in particular. The only interpretation which I can think of which comes anywhere near this TV-mini is that of Nicholas Cage in `Leaving Las Vegas' (1995) (qv). However, the end result in `Padre Coraje' is superior.
It is said that every man should plant a tree, write a book and have a son before he dies: with `Padre Coraje' Benito Zambrano has achieved all three together.
i) for people learning Spanish there may well be great problems following the jerezano accents, definitely not easy, but if you have a version with subtitles it is worth the effort. In no way should you see this TV film in versions which have been dubbed.
ii) Due to the violent language being used and a few scenes of injecting drugs, etc., this film will probably be appropriate only for adult viewing. This is especially so in Spanish-speaking countries, of course.
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