Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Tale Of Two Films

If the "Torrente" series of films had previously been unknown to a Mallorcan audience, it would have become known when former tourism minister Carlos Delgado compared investigators from the Guardia Civil with the films' main character, José Luis Torrente, an anti-hero comedy police officer with quite despicable habits and attitudes. The background to Delgado's outburst was the raid on Calvia Town Hall; the Guardia were and still are investigating claims of "irregularities" in the awarding of contracts for Radio Calvia when Delgado was mayor.

It would in fact have been most unlikely that a Mallorcan audience would have been unfamiliar with Torrente. The "franchise" has been the most successful in the history of Spanish cinema. The fifth and in all likelihood final Torrente movie goes on general release tomorrow. "Torrente 5 - Operación Eurovegas" stars its director-producer-writer Santiago Segura as Torrente and Alec Baldwin, who has admitted it wasn't straightforward having to act using a different language.

The Spanish film-making industry has had its problems over the past few years. Dwindling cinema audiences has been one. A lack of finance has been another, while the sources of much finance - governments and/or banks - have tended, so critics say, to put a block on genuine creativity. Nevertheless, Segura has provided evidence that popular and irreverent film-making can still flourish, while the strong competition for the most recent Goya awards showed that the industry is in rather better shape than some have suggested. The best film, "Vivir es facíl con los ojos cerrados", the story of the teacher who goes in search of John Lennon, has been put forward for an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in 2015.

In Mallorca, film-making was not helped by the closure of the Mallorca Film Commission in 2012 and by the uncertainty that produced. There is now the Balearics Film Commission, which benefits from all of 100,000 euros of regional government finance in attempting to attract film-makers. The island does get its share - a modest one - of location work, as witnessed by zombies traipsing around the Cala Tuent and Formentor in the making of "Generation Z", but there is little by way of film-making coming out of the island.

Toni Bestard, the Mallorcan director of the excellent "Perfect Stranger" with Colm Meaney, will be involved with the shooting of the final scenes of a Civil War film he is co-producing - "El destierro" ("The Banishment") - on Mallorca later this month. The critical acclaim that "Perfect Stranger" received has given Bestard something of a reputation and it is one that, it might be hoped, would raise the profile of Mallorcan film-makers. 

But there again, something is always likely to crop up which undoes efforts of these film-makers. Consider this. In 1998, "El País" reported that the main awards from the Atlantic Cinematography Festival in Cadiz had gone to a film called "Bert". It also received rave reviews at the Malaga Festival in the same year. It was made by the Mallorcan Lluis Casasayas and was shot entirely on Mallorca and mainly in the Tramuntana mountains. It told the story of Bert and his hunt for a friend, an ornithologist who had disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the mountains. It was a film which had taken four years to make, which was widely acclaimed and yet sank without trace. The reason for this was that the Madrid producer of the film had not paid what she should have done. The film was seized before it was put out on commercial release.

It took eight years for there to be anything like a resolution and it has taken a further eight years for Casasayas to restore the original, to transfer it to digital and to edit it down by some fifteen minutes. Sixteen years after it was completed, "Bert" is now on general release.

The Tramuntana mountains quite clearly hold an appeal for film-makers. Locations there and in Formentor were used in the making of "Cloud Atlas", just as they have been more recently for "Generation Z". Indeed, one can go back to 1925 and the first significant film to have benefited from a Tramuntana location - "El secreto de la pedriza". There have been others, such as the film adaptations of "A Winter in Mallorca" (Chopin, Sand and all that, made in 1969) and the novel "Bearn" by the Mallorcan author Llorenç Villalonga (1983).

This all said, filming in the Tramuntana does bring its challenges. One of the reasons it took Casasayas so long to make "Bert" was a problem of continuity. The mountains don't behave themselves when it comes to consistent weather. But he has finally got there, and "Bert" is in the cinemas along with "Torrente 5". Two very different films and two very different backgrounds.

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