Here at the Palm Springs International Film Festival where 40 out of the 63 foreign language films, submitted by their countries for consideration for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Nomination are playing to one of the most devoted film audiences I have seen (on a par with those of TIFF and Havana), I am able at least to try and catch up on the best the international community has to offer.
Starting with Spain's submission, Black Bread (Pa Negro) (ISA: Beta), the power of secrets upon succeeding generations once again is exposed. This multi-award winning film takes place in a poor village where an otherwise principled and loving father acts to help his son in life by succumbing to the fascist and greedy victors of the Spanish Civil War. The story's shocking mysteries must be seen rather than explained here. I was so interested in the director's motivations for this and his earlier film In a Glass Cage, that I ventured to ask him about his own personal life which made him who he was. His own story would make a most fascinating movie, but that is not the subject of this blog.
Agustí Villaronga's Black Bread (Pa' Negre) the Spanish submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar stars a young man named Francesc Colomer and a young woman named Marina Comas who were found in Catalonia, and Freancisc actually coached the cast to speak with a Catalonian accent. Nora Navas won the Silver Shell for Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival, 11 Gaudi Awards and 9 Goyas (Spain's equivalent to the Academy Awards).
Villaronga states that:
The film is about the moral devastation of civilian populations in times of war. Although it features characters from among both the victors and the vanquished living together in close quarters, this is not a film about a clash between winners and losers. It is, rather, a fine-grained study of those characters' emotions. Only through their feelings do we begin to discern, far from the battlefield, the war's terrible consequences. It's almost as if we had shone a light upon an old photograph and in one corner noticed the faded image of some grey figures and then proceeded to tease out their inner lives, their contradictions and daily sufferings, all the time resisting the temptation to romanticize them, to treat them as heroes, or, above all, to stand in judgment.
Even Agusti raised the at objection when Isona came to him with the script. Nor was this Villaronga's first film about children in the post Spanish Civil War era. El Mar, In a Glass Cage and In the Mind of a Serial Killer all spoke of the consequences of the war, the perversions of war which changes the nautre of human beings, now, after, in the future and before. The perversions of war most interests Villaronga. To open the heart of the human being and see the evil in it brought by war and also the good. a sort of dissection is what intesests Villaronga most. Also attractive is the poetry, the thriller-drama mixher of genres. He understands the secrets and mysteries in a very special way says Isona Passola. And the backgound of the mysteries are the lies of the adults which the children try to discover. When the children discover the truths, they change. They are no longer children; they become the adults. Villaronga cites last year's Best Foreign Language Oscar Winner, In A Better World, as also an example of the good intentions of the father leading to violence in the children.
Where the Civil War is usually explained as a Good Vs. Evil event, in this film, the father was "good" siding with the Republicans against the Fascists. But there were lies told which make him a monster in his son's eyes and his son also becomes a monster, though everything the father did was for the good of his son. Villaronga sees the personal tragedy of children who inherit the collective debt of wars.
My guess is that Academy members will be so put off by the opening scene, that the movie itself, a perfect Academy Award winner-sort of film in every other respect, will most likely not be one of the five chosen for nomination this January 13th, and yet without the first scene the film could not tell the story of the young boy whose life is perverted by the secrets of war and greed.