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Fest focus: Cuban musical, Bunuel gems

Saibal Chatterjee does a round up of the Franco-Spanish Film Festival which is currently running in New Delhi.

india Updated: May 01, 2006 19:15 IST

No filmmaker exemplifies the cinematic interface between Spain and France better than the inimitable Luis Bunuel. Not only did he receive his early training in Paris from the French director Jean Epstein, his best films, made in the two decades after he turned 60, were all made in France, where he collaborated with great success with writer Jean-Claude Carriere and producer Serge Silberman.

It is only natural, therefore, that two of the eight films that will be showcased in the Franco-Spanish Film Festival, getting underway in New Delhi on April 28 and scheduled to run till May 5, come from Bunuel’s remarkable oeuvre.

The Diary of a Chambermaid, which kicked off the spectacularly productive “French period” of Bunuel’s career in 1963, and the memorable Belle de Jour (1967), featuring the ineffable Catherine Deneuve, are bound to be the highlights of the festival.

Bunuel, whose birth centenary was celebrated all over the world by lovers of cinema in the year 2000, was a master surrealist – he burst upon the scene with a consciously in-your-face film that he made with Spanish artist Salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou, in the late 1920s – but many of his films were straightforward human dramas and savage farces on his pet peeves – the Catholic Church, the bourgeoisie and the forces of fascism.

A still fromTheDiaryof a Chambermaid.

What stood out above all else in Bunuel’s work was his utter distaste for anything that reeked of commercialism, an attribute that made him a misfit in Hollywood, where he spent several years of his life and career dubbing for documentaries and features. The Spanish master passed away in 1983 – he made his last film,

That Obscure Object of Desire,

in 1977 – but his influence on filmmakers who work outside the mass consumption cinema space continues to be immense.

Among the more high-profile films in the festival is Benito Zambrano’s Spanish-Cuban co-production, Habana Blues, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section last year. The screening in Delhi is the Indian premiere of the film, which is scheduled for commercial release around the country.

Zambrano, who spent 12 years in Cuba, where he received his filmmaking training, follows two young male musicians who are driven by a common goal: hitting the big time and leaving Havana for greener pastures. Habana Blues derives its power from a rare blend of specificity and universality. While the narrative revolves around tangible Cuban realities, the film is expanded to embrace universal themes in an energetic, entertaining way.    

Also in the package is a film each by two of Spain’s most accomplished contemporary directors – Alejandro Amenabar and Julio Medem. Medem, the maker of such films as Vacas (Cows), La Ardilla Roja (The Red Squirrel) and Tierra (Earth), is represented in the Franco-Spanish Film Festival, by his 1998 critical triumph, Los Amantes del Circulo Polar (The Lovers of the Arctic Circle). The film is an evocative love story of two people whose paths cross repeatedly in strange, inexorable ways for 17 years – from the age of 8 to the age of 25

Amenabar, whose credits include the Oscar-winning The Sea Inside and the Nicole Kidman starrer, The Others, has Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), a film he made in 1997, in the upcoming package. Starring Penelope Cruz, the film is set in a psychiatric penitentiary, where a 25-year-old man retraces his descent into dementia.

The other three films in the Franco-Spanish Film festival are Imanol Uribe’sPlenilunio (Full Moon), Fernando Leon’s Barrio (Neighbourhood) and Bernard Rapp’s Pas si grave (Nothing’s Serious).