The Wane in Spain


The new generation of Spanish cineasts is not easily pigeonholed into schools or movements. The decline of political cinema in Spain coincides with the appearance of a cycle of violent thrillers that tackle local realities, but through the appropriated modes of Hollywood genre flicks. The Walter Reade’s Spanish series casts a wide net, traversing the gamut from Santiago Segura’s crowd-pleasing Torrente, a corrupt-cop caper (the highest-grossing Spanish film of all time) to José Luis Guerin’s Train of Shadows, an opaque experimental film guaranteed to drive most audiences up the wall.

The series includes a sidebar retro devoted to Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, one of the major figures of the generation of filmmakers who began their careers toward the end of the Franco dictatorship. Although many of his works have shown a marked interest in myth, metaphor, and fairy tale, his latest, Things I Left in Havana, is a lively and intelligent realistic comedy about a group of Cuban immigrants who settle in Madrid.

Two of this year’s first-time directors treat the theme of teen rebellion, but with unequal success. Novelist Ray Loriga’s My Brother’s Gun, adapted from his own book, is little more than another banal portrait of a misunderstood adolescent criminal, while with Mensaka, Salvador García Ruiz takes a fairly ordinary story about a motorcycle messenger who plays drums in a Madrid band, and runs with it brilliantly, constructing a perceptive and compassionate study of a gritty contemporary milieu. The most impressive debut feature of the series is Manuel Lombardero’s In Praise of Older Women, based on the Stephen Vizinczey novel, here transposed to the Spanish Civil War. Although resolutely anti-Fascist in its sympathies, this is less a political film than a tender coming-of-age flick.

A major disappointment from Juanma Bajo Ulloa, whose fine gothic thriller, The Dead Mother, was the highlight of the 1993 edition of “Spanish Cinema Now,” Airbag is a juvenile Tarantino-esque road movie that mindlessly hurtles back and forth between the Basque country and Portugal for what seems an endless two hours. Its macguffin is a wedding ring lost by a nerdy bridegroom inside the anus of a mulatto hooker. Sad to say, yet more derivative bosh seems on the way— Ulloa’s bloated Airbag was one of the year’s top money-spinners at the Spanish box office.