Tuesday 9 May 2017

Spanish Film Festival (11) - Barrie Pattison keeps at it with 1898 OUR LAST MEN IN THE PHILIPPINES and THE INVISIBLE GUEST

Contratiempo/The Invisible Guest 
Written and directed by Oriol Paulo  this is not a likeable film but it's one that juggles its precision-fit elements expertly. Close-ups of a stop watch count off an hour, surveillance cameras cover outdoors pay ‘phones and computer screens carry incriminating messages. The sleekness of the film making matches the subject and the deserted roads and woods achieve a suitable menace that contrasts with the lead’s luxurious life. 

Everyone is saying Hitchcock, particularly with the sub-Bernard Herrmann score, but the model is really Agatha Christie, as becomes evident in the ultimate twist.

Mario Casas (Witching and Bitching and The Bar) is arrested for the locked hotel room murder of Bárbara Lennie, her body found scattered with bank notes. Top lawyer Ana Wagener has been summoned to stop justice catching up with Casas. Turns out the pair of the beautiful people who have everything and want more were a guilty couple on a Barcelona getaway their spouses don’t know about when they became involved in a multiple car accident with a deer in the Bierce woods.

Our perception of the events and their presentation to the police keeps on shifting as his mouthpiece pressures Casas into further revelations. As in Boy Missing (also with Jose Coronado) the Spanish legal system is once again shown as totally corrupt.

1898. Los últimos de Filipinas/1898 Our Last Men in the Philippines
Salvador Calvo's  film is one of the Spanish Film Festival's most ambitious productions, a big costume melo-actioner, with our favourite Hispanic hard man since the demise of Paul Nashy, handle bar moustached Luis Tosar heading up the fifty man reprisal force sent to recover the Philippines Baler mission over-run by the Tagalog locals in the last days of the Spanish Empire. They are received by agro survivor-sergeant, the admirable Javier Gutiérrez (La Isla Minima, Plan de Fuga) with a machete cut across his brow. After forting up the church, which is strong enough to stand artillery, and digging their well and trench barrier, they come under attack from the guerilla force. The locals take a lot more hits than the troops but one of the recruits sent out to recover bodies under truce just keeps going to the other side. As a deserter he can never return to Spain.

While all this is happening there’s lots of pondering - dialogue about the honour of Spain, “two kinds of soldiers - those who want to get home and those who want medals”. Young recruit Álvaro Cervantes keeps on sketching. His certificate of military service is what he needs to get the recommendation for his art studies. He also starts taking hits on Padre Elejalde‘s opium pipe. Their limited diet means that the Spaniard soldiers are getting beriberi, diagnosed from their swollen feet by Dr. Carlos Hipólito.

To complicate the issue, the Tagalogs arrive with buckets of oranges and the offer of letting them dig a garden if they cease hostilities, saying Manila is now in the hands of the Americans, who have bought the country from Spain. It’s recorded in the newspapers they have brought. Luis, who has nothing to go back to, doesn’t believe it but Captain Eduard Fernández (Truman, El Portero) wants to send Cervantes off through the jungle to check. When the commander dies, Luis puts a stop to that and they make a stew out of the officer's pet dog. Some of all this is too loaded  most notably Tosar with his death wish opposed by the fetching singing whore Alexandra Masangkay as the life force.

Skilled technicians and a substantial budget generate great images - Cervantes on the deck of the troop ship, Tosar leading his uniformed force chest deep in the river while Father Elejalde paddles along side them, fire arrows reigning down on the church, topless Masangkay’ song, a giant spider eating a praying mantis.

Determined movie goers will have seen a lot of it before. This page of Spanish military glory is a disillusioned match for Augusto Genina's 1940 Sin Novedad en el Alcazar/The Siege of Alcazar’s defenders holding off the enemy againstoverpowering odds and makes an interesting comparison with Gary Cooper's Philippino exploits in the 1939 The Real Glory or with Eddie Romero's insurgent films like Moro Witch Doctor or Aguilar. Argentinian Hugo Fregonese would have been likely to have been familiar with the original incident when he made his great Apache Drums centering on its own church fortress. While Los últimos de Filipinas's attempts at thoughtful stray closer to grim accounts of colonial expansion like Burke and Wills and Scott of the Antarctic, it is one of the most handsome entries in the cycle.

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