Australia’s 2019 Moro Spanish Film Festival – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

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Travelling across Australia between April 16 and May 26, the 2019 Moro Spanish Film Festival once again brings its usual annual delights from Spain and Latin America for its 22nd edition to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart and the world-famous coastal town of Byron Bay.

Apart from the expected fare of Goya winners and nominees, this year’s festival features acclaimed hits such as Javier Fesser’s Champions (Campeones) and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s unmissable political thriller The Realm (El reino), the festival will close with a rare Australian screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 classic Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios).

Most exciting, however, is the festival’s “Spotlight on Female Directors” program that features eleven films made by some of the most important and exciting women filmmakers currently working in Spain and Latin America. Notable amongst this selection is not merely the different backgrounds of the filmmakers themselves, but the stories they choose to tell in this strikingly diverse array of selected features.

Arantxa Echevarría’s Carmen and Lola is an immediate highlight, the Bilbao-born director, writer and producer’s film being previously included in the 2018 Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. With a background in television and documentaries, Echevarría works with a cast of non-professional actors in her vivid and moving queer love story set amongst the Roma community on the periphery of Madrid.

Premiering in the Platform section of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Alejandra Márquez Abella’s much-hyped The Good Girls (Las niñas bien) finds the inspiration for its tale of rich 80s Mexican housewives in the work of prolific author Guadalupe Loaeza. Set in the opulent Las Lomas area, Ilse Salas’s protagonist Sofia’s daydreams about Julio Iglesias collide with the increasingly grim realities that move in to slowly shatter her comfort zone.

At the other end of the socio-economic spectrum is Eve (Gabriela Cartol), the title character of Mexican filmmaker Lila Avilés’ debut feature The Chambermaid (La camarista). A powerful story of how ambitions for upward mobility are thwarted by both institutional barriers and fate itself, Avilés’s film received a Cine Latino Award – Special Mention at the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Premiering at this year’s SXSW Film Festival where it won the Gamechanger Award, Ecuadorean Gabriela Calvache’s The Longest Night (La Mala Noche) is an unflinching exploration of human trafficking, an experience the filmmaker has discussed in interviews as having a deep and serious impact on her own mental health while researching it, so gruelling were the stories she uncovered.

With the enduring power of the doppelganger in cinema most recently brought to the fore in Jordan Peele’s Us, Spanish filmmaker Andrea Jaurrieta’s Ana By Day (Ana de día) is a jewel-toned adventure into feminine identity. The title character is brought to life in an unforgettable performance by Ingrid García Jonsson, star of Jaime Rosales’s 2014 film Beautiful Day (Hermosa juventud) which saw her nominated for a Best New Actress Goya Award.

For a change of pace, Argentine filmmakers Jazmín Stuart and Hernán Guerschuny collaborate on the comedy Break (Recreo). Opting for the tried-and-true ‘old friends reuniting and secrets are revealed’ structure, the film’s light humor is counterbalanced by a poignant drama about aging and parenting.

Another comedy hybrid is Crime Wave (Ola de crímenes), this time with celebrated Spanish auteur Gracia Querejeta bringing eponymous elements of the crime thriller into the mix. Actor Maribel Verdú (of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También fame) plays Leyre, a woman’s whose life is turned upside down when her son commits a murder and she decides to conceal his crime.

Argentine filmmaker Ana Katz’s Florianópolis Dream (Sueño Florianópolis) is another family affair, co-written with her brother and whose on-screen children are the actual offspring of the actors who play the film’s protagonist couple, Lucrecia (Mercedes Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón). Following the fracturing family on a vacation to Brazil, Katz focuses a shrewd and sometimes sweet eye on the nuances of these interpersonal relationships.

The feature filmmaking debut of Spanish writer and director Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz, Hopelessly Devout (Mi querida cofradía) casts a sharp, humorous gaze on the place of the Catholic Church in the lives of women. Built around the ambitions of the pious Carmen (played by Spanish television legend Gloria Muñoz), a series of unexpected events challenge her rigid sense of propriety.

A powerful film about domestic violence, in 2004 Spanish actor-turned-filmmaker Icíar Bollaín’s Take My Eyes (Te doy mis ojos) won an impressive seven Goya Awards including ones for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Lead Actor and Actress. She has worked steadily as a director since then, her last four films followed most recently by Yuli, a biopic about the Cuban dance icon Carlos Acosta who was a member of Britain’s Royal Ballet from 1998 to 2015. Following his journey between Cuba and Britain to become the Royal Ballet’s first Black Romeo, the film is based on Acosta’s autobiography No Way Home and he also stars in the film as himself.

Wrapping up with a continuation on this focus on real-life art-world figures, Paloma Zapata’s documentary Peret: The King of Gypsy Rumba (Peret, yo soy la rumba) turns its attention to Pere Pubill Calaf. Simply known as “Peret”, the Catalan rumba legend was a famous face of the Spanish Roma community, and using interviews and archival footage Zapata paints a complex picture of a career that spanned more than sixty years and included performances at Eurovision and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

As demonstrated by this carefully curated selection of eleven films, the future is bright for Spanish and Latin American women filmmakers and this program is a rare opportunity to see their work presented on the big screen in Australia.

The 2019 Moro Spanish Film Festival runs from 16 April to 26 May in Australia:

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).