Saturday 27 April 2019

Spanish Film Festival (6) - Barrie Pattison loses HOPEFULLY DEVOUT (Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz ) in translation but unravels ROJO (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina)

In the Spanish Film Festival, Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz  Mi querida cofradía/Hopelessly Devout  looked as if it was going to be funny - assured cast and technicians, a plot that sends up the stuffy Spanish rural religious scene. Unfortunately, these qualities get lost in translation. The Spanish speakers were falling about while I sat there waiting for the gags.

It’s the festival of the Virgin in the little Spanish town. The affairs of the Brotherhood of the Lady Christ of Liberty and Hope (I think) have been managed by matronly Gloria Muñoz (Bola) who the Mantillas, the women’s auxiliary of the association, defer to. Aha, she’s going to get her comeuppance - but no! It’s that other scenario. Despite her stalwart service she is being passed over for the position of President in favour of Juan Gea who never attends meetings and services - because he’s a man. 

Brothers take a dim view of flighty ways like cleavage, wearing lipstick and having their black skirts hemmed above the knee for their procession of the statue of the virgin through the town.

Muñoz takes it stoically but when Gea turns up at her home to rub salt in the wounds, telling her that her sex permanently disqualifies her, she slips what she thinks are laxatives into his (cheap cooking) brandy and they turn out to be downers which put him out for the day where his absence means Muñoz gets the spot.

She has the problem of what to do with his doped out body and has to call on a neighbour who is having trouble making French Toast (ho ho) and her daughter and grand-daughter. It all ends the way it should sending the audience away happy with the procession.

The best element is the occasional outbreak of ritual - the robing session, raising and carrying the religious float from the church. My attention wandered.

Benjamín Naishtat’s Rojo is in the Spanish Film Festival but is actually Argentinian, and it’s a challenge. Each new scene has no obvious connection to the one before, introducing new characters or plot threads. Some threads re-occur - the “Vaqueros Americanos” who don’t make it to the Rodeo that lead Dario Grandinetti attends - without having any significance to the film’s final shape.

It’s 1975 and people are emerging from a suburban house carrying items of furniture. Dario Grandinetti ( from Almodovar’sHable con ella/Talk to her) is a prosperous, attorney who is threatened into giving up a restaurant table where his wife is to join him. Disturbed customer Diego Cremonesi objects to waiting. Grandinetti psyches the man out by standing against the wall behind him and, when challenged, doing a reasoned and restrained speech (not unlike his nice final scene in El peso de la ley on which this film could be seen as a comment). This humiliates and provokes the stranger, getting him thrown out by the dinner witnesses when he retaliates. Grandinetti resumes his table and begins his meal with his wife.

The man will re-appear with a gun. Then there’s the client-associate who has a plan to take over an abandoned house which needs a straw man signatory and Grandinetti plays tennis in a club where one of the members is fiddling with a rifle in the dressing room. Grandinetti’s teenage daughter (played by Grandinetti’s teen aged daughter) is participating in a ballet presentation while fending off her jealous squeeze with stories about a messy period. One time Chilean cop Rafael Federman who  has become a star playing a TV detective has been called in to investigate a missing former hippie returned to the parental home. He’s big on Catholicism so much so that he’d rather pray than investigate a disappearance that the victim’s mother can’t bestir the authorities to consider. His approach is Cartesian - black and white - no shading.

All the while people are talking about The Intervention and The Coup that is expected.

Grandinetti takes the family off to the beach where there’s an eclipse while his wife is relieving herself in the bushes. However, when he comes back, Federman appears in his office demanding to be driven into the featureless desert. Their scene (“Don’t stumble over the same rock twice”) brings all the fuzzy connections into focus and is a set piece climax. 

Probably the most surprising of the film’s unexpected edits is that to the end title. This is one of those films (Maury Dexter’s The Day Mars Invaded Earth  which is evenbetter than the Haneke Caché ) where the real ending occurs after the film, as the audience puts it all together. 

Naishtat is still in the early stages of his film making and could persist into an imposing career. His oblique comment on Argentina of the Seventies is more disturbing than some of the more explicit efforts we’ve seen.

Cast and filming are assured and sometime more than that. Grandinetti is now a major actor/star.

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