There is something about contemporary Spanish films that fascinates me. I am thinking about three movies in particular. First, there was Pedro Almodóvar’s 2011 La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In), one of the best films of the last decade, my favourite Almodóvar film and the director’s most polished, deepest and most unsettling work. Then, there was Contratiempo (2016), of which I wrote about here. The last one I’ve watched and the first good film of the year I’ve seen so far is La enfermedad del domingo (Sunday’s Illness), written and directed by Rámon Salazar. There are a few elements that are present in all these films and the reason of my affinity: a dark thread, beautiful, dense photography, with a monochromatic, austere composition, in pace with the narrative, the juxtaposition of majestic landscapes and elaborate interiors, an undercurrent of suspense.
I don’t believe in half measures and I believe you can tell if a film is good from the very beginning. We first see Anabel (Susi Sánchez, who also starred in La piel que habito) walking the halls of her palatial home impeccably dressed for the evening and wearing towering heels. She stumbles briefly. I shrieked. A subtle but distinct foreshadow of her imperfect perfect life, a preordained sense of future events. From then on, I did not know when almost two hours, the duration of the film, had passed.
Anabel abandoned her daughter Chiara (Bárbara Lennie, who played in both La piel que habito and Contratiempo) when the girl was 8 years old. Thirty-five years on, Chiara finds her mother and she has just one unusual request: to spend ten days together in a remote house in the mountains. The two protagonists deliver extraordinary, full-bodied performances, contained on the surface, simmering with tormented emotions beneath (which, at one time, they unleash through dance, Anabel on the sound of Dream a Little Dream of Mine, and Chiara on the beat of Nena’s 99 Luftballons).
This film is a haunting examination of an enstranged mother-daughter relationship that avoids melodrama platitude, a beautifully crafted, thrilling chamber piece in which silence speaks as much as or even more than words, a powerful psychological and visual story (cinematography by Ricardo de Garcia, costumes by Clara Bilbao, production design by Sylvia Steinbrecht) that takes you to an eerie state of mind fueled by the picturesque countryside, that seems to be permanently wrapped in a blue glow, and by the painterly, dimly-lit interiors of the mountain cabin.
I think these images will give you an idea of the atmosphere in the film and hope they will make you curious.
photos: movie stills | Institut Català de les Empreses Culturals, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales, Zeta Cinema