San Sebastian Film Festival: Day Four

Journalists and their cough-ins, Marimbas From Hell and Black Bread

by Amber Wilkinson

One thing I'm starting to notice at press screenings is the toll nicotine is taking on the assembled throng. Particularly during films that aren't in Spanish - so are double subtitled - there's a constant chorus of hacking hacks, with the crowd not so much expectant as expectorant. Still, they are nothing if not appreciative and almost every screening is met by at least moderate applause.

Somehow I only caught two films today - not quite sure how that happened - and they were both vastly different. The first is a Guatemalan documentary - Marimbas From Hell - which tells of the unlikely hook up between a traditional marimba player and a heavy metal band. That description, however, barely scratches the surface of a film which is more a reflection of life on the breadline in a country where extortion and crime seem to be as common as breathing.

It is peppered with absurdist humour - such as the sight of one of the heavy metal band in a Hannah Montana T-shirt, or the lead's singer's revelation that he used to be a satanist but is now an evangelist. The only thing is that some of the sections, rightly or wrongly, feel somewhat staged - while I'm not sure they were 'acted out' for the camera as such, it's clear that the subjects are frequently 'aware' of Julio Hernandez Cordon's presence.

Staginess is also a problem from Black Bread (Pa Negre), a film examining the tough life experienced by those on the losing side in post-civil war Catalonia. Agustí Villaronga is certainly aiming for big themes here - including the loss of childhood innocence and the way in which neighbours can be brought to fight against one another - but everything feels far to chocolate boxy and polished to really be believable.

There is also a sense of muddled themes, as subplots are layered on thick but are too insufficiently explored to give any real satisfaction. Perhaps the film's biggest difficulty, however, is that it is mostly seen through the eyes of a child. While Francesc Colomer does his best and certainly shows talent as an actor, he fails to really carry the audience with him in crucial emotional scenes, though one suspect the fault here lies with script and direction rather than the young actor. Ultimately, despite vaunting ambitions, this film fails to leave a significant mark.

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