Friday, December 31, 2010

DVD/Streaming: With THE TROTSKY, Jacob Tierney finds fun/wisdom in "the struggle"

Movies that offer a good premise -- and then don't live up to it -- abound. Films that do the reverse -- in which the premise seems a bit shaky, at best, yet the story unfolds well and the ideas encompass us -- are much the rarer bird. I'm happy to count THE TROTSKY, written and directed by Jacob Tierney (shown below), among the small, latter group.
That premise --  in which our lead character, Leon Bronstein (a wonderful match for the talents of Jay Baruchel, shown below), has decided that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky -- would be grounds for "committal" to an institution (or at the very least heavy-duty time with a shrink) in anything approaching the real world. Does Leon really believe this, or does he just want to emulate his hero? Who knows? So we must let  the premise pass in order to get to the good stuff. Leon wants to change the world. But don't they all, those revolutionaries!

How our fellow does this, or tries -- first at his father's factory, then at his new school -- is the meat of this movie, which bounces giddily along, with scene after scene of charming, slyly political and satiric goings-on. This isn't nasty satire (Fran Lebowitz would not approve); it's more on the gentle side. (Well, the movie's Canadian.) Yet it does raise a lot of interesting questions along the way. Putting aside for a moment our notions of ego and power-grabs, for whmo are revolutions -- yes, like the original that Trotsky was involved in or the high-school version sparked by our young hero -- actually created?  The people, of course.

OK. Whether we take a rueful look at the Russian people today, or at the high school kids shown here, we'll detect a certain... apathy. So does the film -- which points this out from several angles: that of the "power elite," the "reformers" and the kids themselves. Along with the bubbly charm and amusement, there's enough to think about to make the movie more than just another high-school episode. And if The Trotsky never rises to anything approaching greatness, it is also never less than thoughtful fun.

As a filmmaker, Tierney keeps things bouncing, using editing and split screen effectively.  He's assembled a very good cast, too, some of whom -- Saul Rubinek, Geneviève Bujold, Michael Murphy, Colm Feore -- should be quite familiar, while others -- Emily Hampshire, Liane Balaban, Jessica Paré -- maybe not. Ms Hampshire in particular (shown above) makes a fine "older woman" for Mr. Baruchel. It's good to see this actress, intelligent and vital (who was so indelible in one of the finest Canadian films of the last decade, Snow Cake) in another worthwhile role.

The Trotsky, via Tribeca Filmmade its U.S. debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is now available on DVD and/or to stream from Netflix, iTunes or Amazon.

TrustMovies owes a shout-out to his compatriot, Nora Lee Mandel
who recommended the film to him earlier this week.

And to all of my readers: 
May the new year be better than the past one!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

SCN: rare showing of Mexican masterwork full of memories of the Spanish Civil War; audience Q&A with the filmmaker's son

What a privilege it was to see ON THE EMPTY BALCONY (En el balcón vacío) during the recent Spanish Cinema Now series. This is a film that, though I had heard about it over the years -- always fleetingly, and with the caveat that no print still existed -- I never expected to be able to see.  Now, thanks to the work of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, presented in collaboration with Instituto de la Cinematografia y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA) of the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Instituto Cervantes of New York, I have. While I say it was a privilege to view (and I mean this), it was also a bit of a disappointment.

Above: filmmaker and cast and crew, at the time (1961) of filming.

Granted, the print -- which we were lucky to have at all -- was not the best; even so, the film, at its hour length still offered a few too many longueurs. A memory piece that shows us a grown women living in Mexico City who travels back to Spain to the home she lived in during the Spanish Civil War, which she and her family abdicated in the time after Franco's victory, the film is full of remembrances that glide, float and occasionally jolt.

The biggest jolt comes early on (this is one of the problems with the film), as our heroine, then a young girl, stands at one of the windows in their large apartment, when, across the courtyard, a man appears, carefully hanging on to the ledge of the building as he tries to make his escape from the authorities.  He does it, too. Almost.  Hiding beneath the cantilevered ledge, holding on for dear life, he escapes the gaze of the policemen who look downward but do not see him. A neighbor suddenly appears at her window and screams, "There he is!  Get him!  He's a Red!" Her shrill, ugly, horrifying cry cuts through the gauzy memories like some new instrument of pain -- a combination sledge hammer and stilletto. The escaping man is caught, of course.

This brilliant scene encapsulates the frightening abuse of power that goes with everything from Spain's Civil War to our own country's less physically destructive but still disgusting McCarthy era and our current embrace of rendition and torture. Nothing that comes after this offers nearly the strength of that single scene, though there are some moving moments as the woman revisits her former home and eventually collapses into a heap as the memories rush over her. Compare this scene with a similar one in this year's SCN movie Elisa K (also about the letting loose of repressed mem-ories) and note how far film has come over the last half-century.

Though there is some dialog, the movie is mostly voice-over, with the voice rather droning. As the FSLC's Richard Peña pointed out during the Q&A, voice-over was being used by important filmmakers during the early 60s (this film was made in 1961). Last Year at Marienbad is one example that pops into mind, but Alain Resnais offered some sumptuous visuals to acccompany his movie's droning. Balcony's views (with the exception of that single scene) are pretty prosaic. (Elisa K also uses voice-over, but more interestingly and judiciously.)

The filmmaking techniques, from director Jomí García Ascot, seem to my eye rather simple but appropriate enough. (The screenplay was co-written by the director, along with his actors María Luisa Elio and Emilio García Riera.) His film is impressionistic and its construction somewhat jagged, as might befit coming to terms with difficult memories (the loss of one's father, for instance). The leading actress (adult version), who looks wonderfully 60s, was the director's wife and mother of his son Diego García Elio -- the man who introduced the film and followed its screening with a very interesting Q&A with Peña and audience members at the Walter Reade Theater where the film was shown.

TrustMovies, his pen scrawling as fast as possible, took notes of as much of the conversation as he could. In the Q&A below, questions appear in bold and Diego's answers in standard type

How did this film come together? was the first question asked of Diego -- who told us that his father was a member of group of Mexican filmmakers (including Luis Buñuel!) involved with a film magazine called Nuevo Cine. The film was a very personal one, with no budget.  The actors were all friends -- either from Mexico or Spain (the film was shot entirely in Mexico -- on 16 mm) and the shooting was done on weekends.  The story was based on real characters, though the return to Spain shown in the film, never actually happened for the real people on whom the film was based. But the director and actress (Diego's mom and dad) did indeed go back to Spain, and even wrote a book aboout this.

Was the film widely shown when it was first made? Just at two international festivals, Diego explained. It was never a commercial movie, though it did find some critical success.  But it was never shown in Spain itself until the post-Franco era.

Did Diego's father continue with filmmaking after this one?  Yes, he went to Cuba and became involved with the Cuban Institue of Filmmakers, and made two movies in that country.

What happened to the actress who played the little girl in the movie?  (To TrustMovies' mind, she -- shown below -- is the most impressive performer in the film.) She only made this single film.  She lives in Mexico currently and has her own family. But we have not kept in touch, and I really don't know her.

Was the heavy use of voice-overdone primarily for economic reasons?

Yes.  But another  reason is the sense of memory that voice-over provides. (Peña then reminded us that this was what Resnais and other filmmakers were doing at the time.)

(Directed to Peña) You refered to the movie as a masterpiece. Can you tell us what makes this a masterpiece? 

It shows us something of the personal cost of the Spanish Civil war, and it was one of the first films to do this. I had heard about this film for such a long time, and when it was finally shown to me, it lived up to my every expectation.

Can you tell us something about the restoration of this movie and why, if it was restored, does it appear so grainy?

Because it was first shot on 16mm, it was considered an amateur production.  Now, it has been blown up to 35mm, and consequently it has a more grainy look.

How does the movie differ from the family's actual story?

Well, the family was actually confined to a very small room during the war. And there were three little girls, not two, as shown in the film. The family escaped first to Barcelona, which was still a Republican stronghold at that time. When the Republic was lost, the family then went to Paris, where they were all together. Then, when WWII happened, they decided to move to Mexico. It's really another entire movie! (Diego's dad, it turns out, was also an exile from Spain, and his grandfather's occupation was that of diplomat.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SCN: Andrucha Waddington's LOPE looks at the personal history of the playwright/poet

Almost everyone in LOPE has plenty of dirt under his/her fingernails. That's just one of the details that makes Andrucha Waddington's semi-sweeping historical epic so much fun -- and seemingly so right. TrustMovies' understanding of Spanish history is nowhere near good enough to critique dates, locations, and the known facts of the life of famed 16th-Century Spanish playwright and poet, Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio (known more often as Lope de Vega). This made is easier to simply sit back and let the enjoyable movie wash over him -- somewhat in the manner that the old Hollywood spectacles used to do. This one, however, seems more intelligent, particularly where the man's work, love life and character are concerned.

Waddington (the filmmaker is pictured at right) begins his tale as Lope returns from a military campaign, eager to see his beloved mother. With his initial scenes, the Brazilian director (The House of Sand, Me You Them) sets us up for spectacle done on a scale that's both grand (lots of extras) and personal. Yet there is rarely a sense of overused "special effects" here. Instead, everything looks real, dirty and of its time. After awhile, you begin to hope that someone will at long last take a bath --- and this for the chance to view cleanliness rather than nudity. Waddington's camera sweeps, all right (particularly at the finale, on horseback, galloping over the golden plains: the fine cinematography is by Ricardo della Rosa) but more often it lands on faces, architecture, desks, and the stage.

One of those faces belongs to Alberto Ammann, above, who limns a terrific young Lope. Last year Ammann played a great second fiddle to Goya-winning actor Luis Tosar in the SCN hit Cell 211. This year -- in the manner of the proper repertory company in which Spanish actors often seem to reside -- it's Tosar who second-fiddles Ammann as his friend and confidant, Friar Bernardo. Both men come through with fine performances. Ammann, in particular, plays down his good looks under a heavy, scruffy beard, but the playwright's fire and talent are never for a moment in question.

One of the delights of Lope is how it lets us peek in at 16th-century Spanish stage-craft: the workings of the writers, directors and actors. Lope de Vega added a new kind of realism to the mix that audiences appreciated, and we see a bit of how this came about -- despite the protestation of Lope's not-quite mentor, Jerónimo Velázquez (an excellent Juan Diego -- above, left, who actually bears much more resemblance to the poet/playwright than does Ammann, but of course is not nearly so youthful nor such a visual hunk). Also in the loop is Velázquez's fiery, sexy daughter (Pilar López de Ayala, above, right, who coincidentally opens today in The Strange Case of Angelica), as a lady who's got an eye for talent -- on the page and in the sack.

Also in the cast is the lovely Leonore Watling, (above, left) a staple of SCN (and so much else) as a friend of the poet who eventually becomes something more than that. One of the movie's most enjoyable scenes involves a visiting piece of French royalty, Ms Watling's fiancé, and some improvised poetry that Lope creates on the spot. Twice. The film's intelligent and encompassing screenplay, by the way, is via Jordi Gasull and Ignacio del Moral.

There's a great deal to appreciate in this lovingly created spectacle of a time long gone. When the film had ended and a title card told us of Lope's latter days and endeavors, the sound of surprise and delight -- even some applause --  went up from the audience at the Walter Reade, upon leaning how fecund, successful (and long-lived) an artist our young hero eventually became. (The film was shown as part of this year's FSLC Spanish Cinema Now series.)

I would doubt that Lope, being a foreign-language film about an artist, would have U.S. distributors rushing in to give it a theatrical release. But such a beautiful film it is that I'd hope at least VOD, DVD or streaming might beckon. This movie deserves to be seen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SCN offers high art -- well, medium art, at least -- with AITA from José María de Orbe

Like TrustMovies would know the difference between high art and medi-um? Or low? And if it's art at all, can it be anything but high? Maybe the descriptive range should move from good to bad. But can there be bad art, if the art in question is real? And finally: Isn't it all just a matter of personal opinion, anyway? Which brings us to AITA, the "arty-est" of the movies in this year's Spanish Cinema Now.

By "arty" I mean the movie in this series that is far-thest from mainstream. Of course it is the most "per-sonal," too -- but even mainstream films can probably be personal. (Really, can't you imagine Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg saying, "Person-ally, I hope this movies makes a billion bucks!") Aita, however, is anything but mainstream. The work of writer/director José María de Orbe, shown at left (with  the writing collaboration of Daniel V. Villamediana), the film seems to me almost deliberately obfuscatory, beginning with its title -- which the SCN program lists as Aita aka Father, but which might just as easily aka as House. That is the film's main character and what it is most about: a house and its history, renovation and meaning. ("Father," it turns out, is the person to whom the movie is dedicated.)

If movies are "personal" to their creators, they are every bit as much so to us viewers. Hence the many walk-outs during the screening of Aita that I attended, as well as the scattered applause at the film's finish. I did neither, but rather like most of the audience, I suspect, sat there for a few moments as the credits rolled and the lights came up, trying to figure out what I had just seen. It's films like this, by the way, that supply my major reason for refusing to rate the movies I view on some finally arbitrary one-to-four (or five or ten) scale of stars, apples, or any other symbol. Sure: this would give readers a quick "consumer-ish" guide to use, but that "guide" can only be very unfair -- worthless, really -- to the movie in question. And that rating would probably change within a year (maybe a month!), while my words -- that I labor over to explain how I think and feel -- will stay truer to what I have gleaned from the film under consideration. And those words -- even when I dislike a particular film -- might send some viewers to it because of its theme, cast, director, style or content.

So what did I glean from Aita?  Some beautiful, unusual photography (by Jimmy Gimferrer) -- of the interior and exterior of the house. The first image is of workmen hacking away at the overgrowth that surrounds the house. Soon we are inside it, seeing the decay, erosion -- and making discoveries. Will secrets be revealed? Not really. Or not much. Soon enough this seems to be a film of mostly images and light (or the lack of it).  I don't remember spending as much time in the near-dark -- not even in Philippe Grandrieux's A Lake! -- as here, and after a bit, the experience of the house seeming to open up to light and then closing off to it again, grows oddly appealing.

As I understand it, this house belongs to the filmmaker, and so his investment in the movie is indeed quite personal. When vandals attack (this is clearly staged, and the movie becomes another in the lengthening parade of faux documentaries that "blur the line" between real life and reel life), we fear for the house's safety. Then the movie gets all "ghosty" on us -- with apparitions appearing in a film-within-the-film. This I found more "arty-farty" than artful (because it seems tacked-on rather than organic to what is really going on), but others may disagree.

There is choral music at times, old wallpaper from another era, a discovered box of memorabilia, some wonderful photographic compositions of interiors -- but only two living characters in which to become interested: an old man, below right, whose job it is to guard the house (at some angles his face bears a striking resemblance to that of Frank Gehry, which adds a whole other dimension to things) and the priest (in plainclothes, below, left) who occasionally comes to visit.

By the time the two crack open a bottle of wine to toast, I presume, the approaching end of the renovation, you'll either be with them, ready to make a hasty exit, or perhaps a bit stumped -- like me. Aita is visually quite interesting, but it withholds so much from the viewer that it cannot coalesce into anything that might approach "meaning." However, I would surely love to visit the finished house!

Will Aita be seeing the dark-of-day inside an American movie theater? Unlikely, I'd say. But you never know. Anthology Film Archives might just jump, or some other museum/archival institution. If the film sounds like your cup of cinema, stick its name (or its aka, Father) in your memory bank, and when and if you see it playing again, make a point to go.

Monday, December 27, 2010

THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA: Manoel de Oliveira's mystifying opus opens at IFC

To call this film "slight" is to hugely overstate the case. With enough content to perhaps fill an animated short subject (which the movie may remind you of -- but without the required animation and with a seemingly endless running-time of 97 minutes) -- THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (O Estranho Caso de Angélica), is yet another odd bauble from the 102-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveria. As was his most recent movie (Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl), the new one is also about the nitwit, obsessive love of a man for a woman he does not know. The earlier film's ill-chosen love object turned out to be a shoplifter. We've graduated: This one's a corpse.

Loony as this may sound, Oliveira (pictured at left) makes it even stranger (well, it is titled The Strange Case...). His main character is hired in the middle of the night to take photos of the newly deceased, and as he shoots, he falls. And so, it would seem, does the corpse for him. She opens her eyes during the shoot, gives him a wink and a smile, and then begins appearing to our shut-terbug at odd times, taking him for sky-rides in the air, a la Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, but with the sexes and control reversed. It's all story-book and asexual: kids at play.

Obsession being what it is, however, our hero must investigate further, and so he visits the family of his new love (they, shown below, are not amused), then to the graveyard and elsewhere. Growing nuttier over time, he is eventually driven to grab the gates of the cemetery and scream, "Angelica!" at the top of his lungs. Unfortunately, the actor assigned to this role, Ricardo Trêpa (shown above, center, often used by Oliveira and also the lead in his "Eccentricities") is not the sort of performer who commands the screen.  In the recent Spanish Cinema Now film Julia's Eyes, much is made of a character so ordinary looking that he seem to literally blend into the wallpaper. No one in the film can remember what he looks like or anything distinguishing about him. Mr. Trêpa would have made an perfect choice for this role. Here, even screaming at those cemetery gates, he fails to register. But perhaps this is the filmmaker's point: the one-sidedness of obsessive love.

There may be other points here, as well: the pettiness and conven-tionality of the bourgeois mentality, the worth of manual labor, the transitory nature of love and life and their connection to death. Oddly, however, though this film lasts more than a half-hour longer than the earlier Eccentricities, its pleasures are noticeably fewer. Not nearly as beautiful to view as its predecessor (except for that shot of our "heroine" -- the lovely Pilar López de Ayala -- below), it seems as small and cramped as the boarding house in which our hero lives -- despite those trips aloft with the floating corpse.

During the film, a statue in the town's center keeps pointing the way, but no one, most of all the filmmaker, manages to find it.  Still, this is such as "personal" and quirky little movie that I suppose -- whatever it thinks it is about and for -- the filmmaker himself was probably more than satisfied with its outcome.

The Strange Case of Angelica, distributed by Cinema Guild, opens in New York at the IFC Center this Wednesday, December 29. Click here for further playdates around the country, scheduled, at this point in time, for February and March 2011.

SCN: José Luis Guerín's delightful, thought-ful new kind of travel documentary, GUEST

The title character in José Luis Guerín's new documentary GUEST, it seems to me, is Señor Guerín himself. And what a fine, kind, smart and caring guest the director proves to be. In town (and in country) at various film fests across the world to plug his popular 2007 movie In the City of Sylvia (you can view TrustMovies' take on that interesting film here), the filmmaker uses his free time to seek out each city's most basic citizens: the poor, the downtrodden, the outsiders, the elderly, those people you find on the street. While his film begins with a couple of very attractive models -- maybe actresses -- who sing a snatch or two from The Young Girls of Rochefort (soon after we hear a bit of Nino Rota via a talented accordionist), we're then tossed amidst the hoi-polloi -- and probably much the better for it.

Guerín, pictured at left, has shot his entire film in black-and-white, and this, too, proves a blessing for those of us who still appreciate the way blacks can enfold, whites glisten and greys do all sorts of wonderful things. I am not certain why, but black-and-white film also seems to bring out faces in a manner than makes us pay better attention to their features and composition. The very unreality of black-and-white seems conversely to make certain things more real. In any case, the filmmaker's series of "home movies" shot on the road proves, thanks to his well-chosen subjects, unusually energizing and full of raw life. Because Guest was my fourth film to be viewed in a single day, one immediately after the other, the first beginning at 2pm and this one ending around 11, I was wondering if I would make it through with my eyes still open. Thanks to Guerín and his many "hosts," I left the Walter Reade Theater as alert and enthused as I'd been when I first walked in.

I rather wish that, with each new location the filmmaker visited, he had elected to post the name of the city upfront.  Instead, he gives us the date -- which seems to me to be much less important, except that this helps us realize how he is flipping back and forth, all over the globe, occasionally with very little time between cities. If we listen carefully, we can usually determine where we are, yet a simple title card would have helped.

As we move along we get all sorts of interesting visuals and talk, from a young couple in Chile (she's pregnant) simply devouring ice cream to Colombia, where it's all about politics and social unrest; in Macao, where a very old photographer (shown below) shows us his ancient photographs and talks of history and life; in Cuba, we meet a homosexual who is HIV-positive but asymptomatic, who seems happy as a clam at the health care and other help he's receiving from his country. There are a few down times (even in his brief appearance, Jonas Mekas begins to bore us to death) -- and the amount of time given to Jesus-freak street preachers strikes me an pretty unconscionable. Is Guerín religious (which I doubt)? Or is he trying to show how religion holds the population down?  Either way, some stern editing here would have helped. We can appreciate how the streets of Latin American cities are filled with preaching, but -- really -- we don't have to spend such an inordinate amount of time with each preacher.

As we turn the corner to 2008 (the movie begins mid-2007), we're in the Philippines, where the economy is bust and the government is doing nothing to help. One interview here accomplishes infinitely more than the entire length of a movie such as Lukas Moodysson's crappy Mammoth. We meet a 110-year-old women in Mexico; in Peru, we sees the sights and sounds of the Shining Path devastation; and finally, in Jerusalem (below) the kids want to know when what Guerín is filming will be on TV, but due to the language barrier, he can't explain to them what his filming is for.

There is so much that is so vital and appealing here, that I must ask: What's with the lousy and often unreadable white-on-white subtitles? If Guerín is any kind of a moviegoer (unless he speaks five languages fluently), he must know how despicable is this kind of subtitle. How much more expensive could it have been to have the white lettering surrounded by black or appear in yellow, so as to be always legible, as most foreign-language films nowadays do? Still, as angry as I occasionally grew -- due to my inability to read what people were saying -- this remains a quibble. Guest is full of life and thought, sadness and delight, and the thrill of seeing and hearing real people who have something to say. With all the talk these days of how so many films blur the line between narrative and documentary, here's one that's truly and absolutely a doc. And all the better for it.

Shown only once during the recent FSLC Spanish Cinema Now series, Guest, I hope, will reach theaters, DVD, streaming, or whatever -- very soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

BLACK BREAD and MOONCHILD complete SCN's Agustí Villaronga mini-retrospective

TrustMovies caught up only at their final showing with the last two films -- BLACK BREAD (Pa Negre) and MOON CHILD (El niño de la luna) -- in the Spanish Cinema Now retrospective of five of the 14 films that filmmaker Agustí Villaronga (shown above) has so far given us. (You can find TM's coverage of the earlier three here.) Moon Child (from 1989) still remains unavailable on home video in the USA, but he hopes that Black Bread will at least find its way to DVD and/or streaming, if not to a deserved theatrical release.

In a way, it's probably a shame that this filmmaker's first internatonal success was the hugely transgressive shocker, In a Glass Cage, followed by another less shocking and transgressive movie, El Mare, which still packed quite a wallop. In the minds of many of us film buffs, I suspect, these movies marked Villaronga as a kind of classy, horror/slasher-meister, a description that -- on the basis of the fine little retrospective presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center -- shows up that description to be woefully inadequate. Simply by viewing Villaronga's Aro Tolbukhim: The Mind of a Killer, a wonderful mixture of documentary and imagination, it is clear that the filmmaker possesses seriousness and skill that go far beyond mere shock.

Black Bread, I think, brings together literally everything this man is best at: showing us the vulnerable lives of children, together with their surprising strength and resilience, and how a fascist society's use of power shapes its people into sheep -- some killers, most victims, but all finally in the same, sinking boat. Villaronga is also expert in combining past and present into films that show how the former, never really gone, effects the latter.

His most mature and skillful film so far, Black Bread begins in the woods with a scene of quiet foreboding that escalates into something so surprising and shocking, yet so visually stunning, that it becomes one for the books. (Horse lovers be warned: This will disturb your sleep for decades, should you live that long.) Then we get into the film's real content: a child's education and growth, under the Franco regime.

What distinguishes Black Bread is its array of adult characters, all more complex than a first glance might suggest and all riven by past compromises, soon coming home to roost. We imagine we know for whom we must root (the child, of course) but we soon find that history, one we learn it, darkens everyone here, particular those adults we initially found most positive. Holding on to one's ideals is given much lip-service, and quite beautifully, too. But where were these ideals earlier in the game when some important, urgent choices had to be made?

Finally, the film -- adapted by Señor Villaronga from the novel by Emili Teixidor -- is about how the relatively innocent child becomes the complicated, problematic man. The film's final scene, equally moving and unsettling, is as subtle and quiet as that opening scene was full-out and shocking.  Black Bread is by far this filmmaker's richest, most fruitful work to date.

Moon Child, on the other hand -- made 21 years ago -- shows the filmmaker in territory most comfortably occupied by Argentine metaphysical filmmaker Eliseo Subiela (the award-winning Man Facing Southeast and Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going). Here, Villaronga offers us a fantasy/sci-fi fable full of symbolism (from that moon onwards) about a gifted, magical child and his quest.  Being early Villaronga, however, the film is also full of voyeuristic sex, some of it rather transgressive. Power and its use is front and center, as shown both by the boy himself, and the very fascistic cult of moon- worshipers into whose hands the kid falls.

Making the would-be heroine a rather slow-moving, drunken slut is a nice, if odd, choice.  The real heroine surprises us (and herself) as she slowly grows into the role. There's hair-breath escape, suspense, a chase, murder, and more -- all of it filtered though a story-book sensibility that is often quite charming and dear.  Plus there's a chance to see the fine actor Lluís Homar (who graced SCN with a personal appearance this year) in a small early role.

The print we viewed at SCN was not the best, but it evidently was the best available. Moon Child is no lost masterpiece, that's for sure. But simply for the opportunity to see this so-far unavailable film, we're grateful.