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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Spanish Film Festival (10) - Barrie Pattison looks at the retrospective offering paying tribute to actress Ana Belen, DEMONS IN THE GARDEN

Because the Spanish Film Festival new releases take all the time (and money) I can pour into the project, I've been neglecting its small retrospective on the work of the gorgeous Ana Belén. That's a pity because it's hard to see any vintage Spanish material here. I did however catch their run of Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón's 1982 Demonios en el jardín/Demons in the Garden again.

Admired in it's day as a star turn by the New Spanish Cinema, a festival prize winner and prestige production, this one is not really equal to its ambitions. Torrid Latino melodrama wins out over that festival film cliché, sensitive study of growing up in troubled times.

In the Franco era, the rural family store derives much of it’s profits from the black market. They are preparing for Belén’s wedding. Much sibling rivalry between balding Eusebio Lázaro the groom and his brother Imanol Ariaz the local Don Juan, who it turns out has got cousin, the always imposing Angela Molina, pregnant. The giant bull, that Ariaz regards as a pet and Lázaro threatens to turn into steaks, breaks into the church during the wedding. “He only wants to play.”

The brothers fight in the store room where the contraband goods are kept, being careful not to spill the valuable olive oil, and the argument reaches the point where Lázaro pulls the locked away pistol’s trigger on his brother, only to find it empty. The pair are shocked into reconciliation.

Ana Belen, Angela Molina, Demons in the Garden
Molina reproaches Arias for deserting her when he decides to use his Falangist
connections to get a place in Madrid and she moves to an isolated hill property to raise her child. Years later grandma Encarna Paso is overcome with guilt and acknowledges Álvaro Sánchez Prieto  and, when the doctor orders the boy's indulgence as a cure for rheumatic fever, takes him into bed rest at the main house and bankrolls the purchase of scarce streptomycin, with Molina visiting.

They discover that the kid’s father, whom he has never seen, has gotten a spot in the service of Franco. The newsreel playing in the neighbourhood movie house has a shot of him glimpsed in the retinue and the projectionist chops out the piece of film for Prieto. The kid dictates a letter to the generalissimo asking for his dad to be allowed to visit and an official motorcade arrives for a trip where Franco can fish for the local trout.

They swirls through the dusty road and one of the cars has Arias, who pulls up showing the leader's dessert container, greeting the boy and inviting him to visit. When Molina takes him - one adult and a child, granny is left behind - he can see that Arias is just a waiter ("it is an honor to serve the general") and runs off disillusioned.

The boy has been stuffing his bed with groceries to slip to mum Molina and money goes missing from the business’ vintage four tumbler safe. Suspicion falls on Molina. However Arias (“he’s always been a demon”) is the culprit and gets a blast from the pistol which they they cover for the family photo that the end credits play over.

The film presents elements that aren’t properly worked out - the “merchant” business with Lázaro lovingly running his hands through the sacks of superior produce or Paso telling the kid about the sins of the scarf wearing women customers out of their hearing. Arias with his silver tray is continuing the family tradition.

Without understanding the original language, the persistent humour registers as strange (the brothers' drunken reconciliation, the relatives devouring  Paso's Spanish omlette that the kid rejects) and political detail is lost - Molina as a "rojita", the fascist symbol on the cigarette lighter that we expect to set the hay on fire. 

The scene of sending the lecherous policeman to intimidate Molina seems to be missing in the current copy, apparently an original 35mm film print with the contrasty colour and poor shadow detail of the day. Film form is basic. Pretty much the only close shots are of Molina, who is of course in her element - another onion cutting scene. The cast are expert. Minimal music with none under the titles and the the locals breaking out in the theme from Silvana Mangano's Anna, which the Pope has forbidden, making watching it young Prieto’s first mortal sin.

There are Spanish films I'd prefer seeing dusted off.

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