I came relatively late to Spanish Cinema, so these recommendations are all fairly modern. I only deal here with films from Spain, not those other films, in the Spanish language, that originate from Central, or South America. They will be the subject of a different post.
What have I done to deserve this? (1984) I could simply list five films from the writer and director of this one, Pedro Almodovar, and leave it there. I really enjoy all his work, and the ensemble cast that he gathers for most productions. I have chosen this one, not just for the quirky plot, and madcap farce, but for the central performance from Carmen Maura, as the struggling, put-upon housewife. I will not try to outline the story, as it is multi-stranded, and at times, bizarre. You will either love it, or hate it, so I will leave it to you to discover which. Here is a short clip, in Spanish.
Carmen. This is a 1983 version of the classic tale of love and betrayal, inspired by both the original book, and the Bizet opera. This is officially part of director Carlos Saura’s ‘Flamenco trilogy’, and brings the well-known story into the world of the top Flamenco troupe in Spain. In the film, the director of this production falls madly in love with the young dancer that he has cast as Carmen, and the plot follows that of the original, with betrayal, and murder. The gorgeous Laura del Sol stars in the title role, but the real star is the music. The haunting opera score translated to guitars and hand-claps, and the stifling atmosphere of the dance studio, well reflected in the tensions amongst the cast. Here is a scene, showing the wonderful Spanish guitar, and the flamenco dancing practice.
Captain Alatriste, The Spanish Musketeer. ( Also known as Alatriste). Starring the Danish-American actor Viggo Mortenson, who speaks perfect Spanish, thanks to an upbringing in South America, this 2006 film is a sprawling epic, set during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Thirty Years War, during the 17th Century. Alatriste was the hero of a successful series of books, and this is an attempt to condense them into a film. Don’t be put off by the subject matter. The eventful life of the mercenary soldier during this period of European upheaval is rarely considered, and even more rarely seen on film. It is a brilliant story, filmed mostly in natural light, and every second feels absolutely authentic. The battle scenes are some of the best and most accurate ever staged, and the whole experience is both cinematic, and rewarding. Here is a clip, showing part of the battle of Rocroi.
Ay, Carmela. Carmen Maura again, this time directed in 1990, by Carlos Saura, in a film set during the Spanish Civil War, though not a war film. A small group of touring players are entertaining Republican troops near the battlefields. When the changing face of war leaves them in the hands of fascist troops, they are asked to put on a show for their captors. This film deals with some of the complex issues of the time, and the relationships of the players. A small film, both in scale and ambition, it is not well-known, and worth investigating all the more for that. I will add, that it is usually quite hard to find, though currently available from Amazon on DVD. Here is a short clip, in Spanish.
Fermat’s Room. This up to date, complex Spanish thriller, made in 2007, stars many of Spain’s better known actors. Diverse characters, all sharing a skill in mathematics, are lured to the house of a host unknown to them. Once there, they are challenged to perform various tasks, the outcomes of which, will change their lives. This is a real cracker, with plot twists, intriguing challenges, and a claustrophobic feel. I can highly recommend this for fans of the mystery genre, and those that simply appreciate good acting and directing. Here is the cinema trailer. HD, with English subtitles.
There you have it; another mixed bag, with many titles almost unknown outside Spain, or watched by serious film buffs only. Break the mould, and give them a try, and you will broaden your film experience by doing so.