27 February 2009

One from the Vault - originally posted February 12, 2008 on MySpace

en espanol, por favor

First, someone needs to clue me in to how to insert Spanish characters here.


I've been watching a lot of movies lately. I used to have a Blockbuster Online membership, but I realized after a while that I was spending 'way too much money per movie. I had the basic $10-a-month plan, which doesn't sound bad - you get a movie, you send it back, they send you the next one in your queue, and if you're watching movies as soon as you get them, it's a real deal. Unfortunately, between school, the new(ish) house, work, other projects, and whatnot, I was frequently keeping a movie two or three months before I watched it, sometimes longer. That adds up when you look at it realistically: $30 to keep a movie three months? I could've bought it for less!

So I cancelled that and signed up at Wild and Wooly Video, a local venture that has all the odd-duck stuff I love. It's on Bardstown Road, in the Highlands -- if you know Louisville, that will tell you what sort of place it is. If you don't - well, the Highlands is a neighborhood not far from downtown, where the houses are old, the population is exceedingly diverse, and the businesses lean well to the left of "funky." It was among the businesses of the Highlands - and the main drag, Bardstown Road, in particular - that the locally popular slogan evolved: Keep Louisville Weird! And trust me, W&WV is about as weird as they come, and darn proud of it!

So here's the thing: I did not exactly excel in foreign languages in school. In fact, at one point, I changed my major from Sociology to Psychology to get out of having to take any more language credits. I can mimic accents flawlessly, but when I get through reading a page of text and I'm asked what it means, my response is usually along the lines of, "Ruh?" However, last summer, a group of us convinced our translation team and a few others to start a lunchtime conversational Spanish class, and I actually started catching on. So I set myself a goal of becoming comfortable, if not fluent, in Spanish, and one of the ways I figured I could do it would be to watch Spanish-language movies.
It's working. Along about movie # 7 or 8 -- Vacas, a fascinating little piece of
Basque historical melodrama - I realized I was only looking at the subtitles about a third as often as when I started, right after Christmas. I was starting to understand the dialogue. And besides the redeeming educational value, I find many of these movies are simply like nothing I've seen before.

I know a lot of people have seen Pan's Labyrinth. It's a fairy tale in the truest sense, dark and violent and frightening, and it almost seems, just before the end, as though evil has won. It's stunning - haunting, powerful, exceedingly well-done in every aspect.

That was one of the first. Since then, I've watched so many movies, mostly from Spain, some very recent and others going back to the early '70s. I've found out what Geraldine Chaplin's been doing since Dr. Zhivago - Spanish cinema! I've learned a good bit about Spanish history and culture in addition to the language, and I've also seen several really good movies from Latin America, running the gamut from romantic to bizarre (that would be Vera, which I watched a couple nights ago and still haven't figured out). I've discovered a favorite actress, Ana Torrant, who couldn't have been more than 5 when she did Secret of the Beehive, and is now probably in her mid-thirties. Vacas is a few years old; she may have been in her late 20s when she made that.
One weekend, I rented both Volver -- very recent, with Penelope Cruz cast pretty much against type -- and Cria Cuervos, the first of Torrant's movies I saw. (Geraldine Chaplin was in it, playing both Torrant's character as an adult and, in the flashbacks that made up most of the story, her character's mother's ghost.) I had to watch that one twice.

They're both ghost stories in a sense. Volver means "to return." And there were many returns: the return of a lost parent, the return of a woman to a place she'd run from, the return of relationships that had been dead. Cria Cuervos is set in Franco-era Madrid. Ana Torrant plays a middle child among three daughters, who blames her father for her mother's death. (Although the cause is never specified, I'm thinking ovarian or cervical cancer, given the scene that takes place just before she dies.)

It took me a while to figure out the title. It means "raising crows," and it comes from a Spanish proverb that says, "If you raise crows, they will scratch your eyes out." I finally ran it past my daughter the other night, completely out of context - she hasn't seen the movie and didn't know what it was about - and she got it immediately. If you raise your children to be demanding and selfish and self-absorbed, they'll make you pay for it.

Little Ana is not a bad child. She's not really homicidal, in spite of the fact that she believes she's killed her father and has no regret for having done so. She's about 8 years old, and she figures he deserved it. In fact, I'd have to disagree with the two or three reviewers I read later, who thought she was depressed and suicidal. I think she was a take-charge kind of kid who basically saw what was wrong and tried in her own odd-duck way to fix it. There's one scene where she fantasizes jumping off a rooftop, but it was pretty clear to me that she isn't imagining killing herself - after she jumps, she flies, dipping and swooping around her neighborhood. She's imagining being free.

She's not a demanding, selfish little "crow," but she does prove out the proverb. She also proves out my favorite definition of a spoiled child, made by one of the umpty-eleven seminal psychologists whose work I studied, and I've forgotten which (Maslow, maybe?): A "spoiled" child is one who' s been taught that she needs something to survive, and then has it taken away. Except for the housekeeper, and her mother, who is dead, Ana is either ignored or treated more harshly than either of her sisters by the other adults in her life. She was her mother's favorite, the most like her and the most loved. And now, her mother is gone, and since she believes she's the only one who knows the truth, she takes it upon herself to correct the situation. With great, dark eyes and a solemn affect, she goes about the work of repairing her world as best she can, and the movie as a whole is alternately darkly hilarious and gently sad, but still hopeful.

After all, she does grow up to look like Geraldine Chaplin! And she doesn't appear to be in prison, so I'm guessing it all comes out in the wash.

So there's your movie review for tonight. Remember this name: Ana Torrant. She can act circles around every Hollywood beauty I can think of. Go rent Cria Cuervos or Vacas or The Devil's Backbone (a whole 'nother cast, and another review for another night) and work on your Spanish!

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