Sweet Sixteen – Spanish Film Festival Opens With A Bang.

Non-professional actor Carmina Barrios nails her son's riotously funny debut, Carmina Or Blow Up
Non-professional actor Carmina Barrios nails her son’s riotously funny debut, Carmina Or Blow Up

Who can believe the Spanish Film Festival has only just reached the tender milestone of sweet sixteen?

Kicking off in the salubrious surrounds of Melbourne’s Palace Cinema Como and Perth’s Cinema Paradiso tonight with Catalan writer/director Cesc Gay’s A Gun in Each Hand (Una Pistola en Cada Mano), the show then hits the road, with Canberra and Byron Bay added for the first time this year, as well as Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

A whirlwind of comic vignettes, A Gun in Each Hand brings together a stellar line-up of forty-something Spanish stars, including, Ricardo Darín, Luis Tosar, Javier Cámara and Eduardo Noriega in a witty exploration of the male ego.

This year’s crop is full of quirky cinematic treasures that play with our expectation of Spanish cinema. Carmina Or Blow Up is a cracker of a debut by writer/director Paco León. Casting his mum, Carmina Barrios, as a domineering, no bullshit kinda matriarch in this hilariously poor taste, raucous mockumentary.

Friends and family do a sterling job delivering the tales of misadventure as Carmina plots to pull secure an insurance windfall by robbing her own tavern blind after several genuine break ins lead to zero payout.

At only 70 minutes, it’s a short, sharp, riotously funny blast, as an eternally-smoking Carmina gleefully poos her pants while trapped in a car with her horrified daughter, glasses herself with a bottle to frighten off a loan shark’s goon and inadvertently drinks vaginal wash. You have been warned.

Eduardo Cortés’ Hold Up! (¡Atraco!) is a lushly shot period piece set in a vibrantly realised 50s Madrid as a gang of snazzily-dressed Argentinians plot to steal back the jewellery that belonged to deposed President Peron’s wife, the infamous Evita. It’s a bit of an ask at two hours, but there’s plenty of fun along the way.

Clandestine Childhood (Infancia Clandestina) is another stunning debut effort, this time by writer/director Benjamín Ávila, who draws on his own childhood memories of living on the run, with pro-Perón revolutionaries for parents, seeking to overthrow the new dictatorship in Argentina in 1979.

It raises a lot of complicated questions about loyalty to one’s country and belief system, as opposed to defending your family first and foremost, and the violent consequences, when they come, are strikingly rendered by animated sections that draw on the bold imagery of pulp noir graphic novels.

Operation E (Operación E) is a taut thriller that successfully marries this with an emotional heart so often missing from the genre. French-born, Spanish-speaking director Miguel Courtois explores the fate of a young boy thrust into the chaos of the Colombian guerrilla war. Imbuing the film with an at times documentary-style realism, it’s an assured exploration of a complicated political minefield.

Guests of the festival include Y Tu Mama También and Pan’s Labyrinth star Maribel Verdú, who appears in this year’s duo The End (Fin) and 15 Years + 1 Day (15 Años Y Un Dia), and also Mexican director Natalia Beristáin who presents her debut She Doesn’t Want To Sleep Alone (No quiero dormir sola). Viva la España!

Stephen A Russell