Breaking up is hard to do, but staying together for the sake of the children is no picnic either. Consider the Spanish parliament, currently debating legislation that would grant Catalonia even greater autonomy. When a high-ranking army general suggested military intervention to prevent secession, the government, mindful of the failed army coup in 1981, fired him and placed him under house arrest. No one at the Film Society of Lincoln Center has been charged (not yet, at least), but they’ve definitely caught some of that patriotic fervor, splintering off their annual “Spanish Cinema Now” to form a breakaway republic of a series celebrating 100 years of Catalan film.
Barcelona’s status as Spain’s film capital waned with the advent of sound, and it didn’t help matters when Franco prohibited all public use of the Catalan language. A program of silents (with live piano accompaniment) revisits the golden age with a short by F/X pioneer Segundo de Chomón and a 1908 adaptation of Don Juan Tenorio (a 1922 remake by one of its directors plays on a separate bill). The Franco-banned curiosity Life in Shadows (1948), writer-director Llorenç Lobet Grácia’s only credit, follows the world’s biggest film geek (played as an adult by the ubiquitous Fernando Fernán Gómez) from his birth in a movie theater to his final-reel obsession with Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Viewers can brush up on their Catalonian history with the sprawling nationalist family saga The Burned City, released while the generalissimo’s corpse was still warm. A more recent take, Diamond Plaza (1982), focuses on a woman whose life gets swept up in historic events, from the rise of the Spanish republic to the fall of Barcelona to fascist repression. Based on a novel by exiled writer Mercé Rodoreda, the film deliberately invites comparison to Gone With the Wind, although its passive, despondent heroine (the stunning Sílvia Munt) would test Scarlett O’Hara’s patience. Still, director Francesc Betriú strikes a compelling balance between epic sweep and intimate drama.
The short-lived Barcelona School gets its due (Fata Morgana, Dante Is Not Simply Harsh), as do cult favorites Bigas Luna (Anguish) and Agustí Villaronga (In a Glass Cage). A few of the titles add little to Catalan cinema aside from a vague regional sensibility. A hit on the gay film fest circuit, Costa Brava identifies so closely with its performance-artist protagonist (writer-director Marta Balletbò-Coll) that it reads more like monologue than like a movie. At least the bright Barcelona interiors of In the City, a thinly plotted comedy of manners by Cesc Gay (Nico and Dani), constitute prime real estate porn.