The August Virgin (La virgen de agosto)


What Madrilenos do in August.

(2019) Drama (OutsiderItsaso Arana, Vito Sanz, Isabelle Stoffel, Joe Manjón, Maria Herrador, Luis Heras, Mikele Urroz, Naiara Carmona, Simon Pritchard, Violeta Rebollo, Sigfrid Monléon, Francesco Carril, David López, Julen Berasategui, Alonso Diaz, Lucia Perlado, Soleá Morente, Pablo Peña, Lorena Alvarez. Directed by Jonás Trueba

 

In Central and Southern Europe’s largest cities including Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and Venice, it isn’t unusual for much of the population to desert the city during the month of August for cooler climates or at least places where beaches are plentiful. Keep in mind that air-conditioning is not as common in Europe as it is here.

\Eva (Arana) is a thirty-something who has, after years of following the flock out of town in August, decided to remain in Madrid for the month of August. It seems time for her to make a change; she’s an actress who is ready to try some other way of life. She is apartment-sitting for a friend closer to the city center, and takes part in the religious festivals (including that of the Blessed Virgin, hence the title) that take place in early August.

She is a bit of a tourist in her own city, hanging out in places where the tourists (there are always tourists) hang out. There she meets a Welsh ex-pat (Manjón) and his English cousin (Pritchard) at a bar she hangs out in with her upstairs neighbor (Herrador), a performance artist.

For the most part, Eva isn’t much of a talker so much as a listener, but occasionally she reaches out at unexpected moments. This movie is as languid as the heat of the dog days. It moves at a pace that American audiences may find unbearable and to be honest, nothing much of note happens. This is a slice of life in the truest sense of the word. Eva drifts through, looking to find herself but unsure what precisely she’s looking for. There’s a bit of a twist near the end of the film but it’s not so much an “a-ha” moment as it is a “wait…what?” moment.

Arana is the film’s saving grace; her presence is low-key but nevertheless compelling. You want to hang out with her, whether she’s floating about a local swimming hole, hanging out in a bar, dancing in the streets, or eating in one of Madrid’s many bistros. The conversation here isn’t life-changing so much as it is life-affirming. This is what people do every day when it’s too hot to think too hard.

Trueba is one of Spain’s most promising directors, if you listen to the Spanish press. If being a fly on the wall in someone’s life is exciting to you, this might well be the kind of movie that’s for you. However, if you watch movies to escape the ordinary, this is going to bore you silly. Me, I can go either way depending on my mood; I do love a lot of what this movie is about, although I will say that the twist doesn’t really fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie and that at just over two hours, the movie coud have used some trimming here and there. Still, if life is what you seek, here is where you’ll find it.

REASONS TO SEE: Arana has low-key but compelling presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: Languidly paced and a bit of a drag.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Leonard Cohen t-shirt that Eva lends Sofia is the same one Trueba used in his first film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mid-August Lunch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Beasts Clawing at Straw

The Sleepwalkers (Los sonambulos)


Country living isn’t all its cracked up to be.

(2019) Drama (MeikinCineErica Rivas, Ornella D’Elia, Luis Ziembrowski, Rafael Federman, Daniel Hendler, Marilu Marini, Valeria Lois, Gloria Demassi. Directed by Paula Hernández

Family dynamics are often a fragile thing. They may appear solid and strong on the surface, but cracks may run just beneath the surface, ready to make themselves known at a moment’s notice.

Luisa (Rivas) isn’t looking forward to spending the New Year’s break at her mother-in-law’s country home. While Meme (Marini) is congenial, she is definitely in charge of the purse strings and lets everyone know it. Luisa’s husband Emilio (Ziembrowski) insists and like a dutiful Argentine wife, she acquiesces. Her daughter Ana (D’Elia) is too busy being 14 years old to care, although not too busy to display angst and attitude at every available opportunity.

Also staying at the house is Sergio (Hendler), Emilio’s brother; and Ines (Lois), Emilio’s sister who is nursing a newborn. There is definite tension within the family; Meme is thinking of selling the house which Sergio is all for and Emilio is not. Into the mix comes Alejo (Federman), Sergio’s son and the obvious black sheep of the family. Young, manipulative, seductive, and brutally handsome, his arrival makes a tense situation even worse. Ana becomes interested in the confident, flirtatious Alejo, bringing further discord between mother and daughter. Neither one of them, however, are prepared for what comes next.

Hernandez/ fifth feature might well be her best. This is all about family dynamics and how people within families fall into familiar roles and not always healthy ones. On the surface it appears like a fun get-together where everyone is glad to see each other, but there is much tension hidden from view and it all comes out eventually. Even the stoutest pressure cooker must eventually let off steam.

The ensemble does some pretty good work here, with Rivas showing some real fire as Luisa who is extremely stressed with her relationships with both her husband and her daughter in very precarious positions and her job being threatened. D’Elia manages to perform on the same level; she’s got the petulant teenage daughter thing down to a science. She’s also amazingly beautiful; she is like a Raphael painting of cherubim come to life. Ziembrowski is also solid as the husband trying to understand his wife’s misery and failing spectacularly at it because…well, that’s what husbands do for the most part.

The pace is as slow as a summer afternoon on a particularly hot day; languid, in other words. At times it feels like not much of the story line is getting advanced but when the climax comes it’s pretty explosive and it is definitely worth all the buildup. The title refers to a condition that runs in the family, particularly with Ana who opens the movie by sleepwalking. It can also describe the pace as well.

This is not for those who look at Marvel movies as the height of cinematic achievement (although to be fair there are plenty of people who love Marvel movies that will get into movies like this one) but more for the cinephile, particularly those who are eager to sample movies from other countries and cultures. As much as I complained about the pacing, I kind of liked the way it moved slowly; it allowed me to savor the performances and the relationships that much more.

REASONS TO SEE: The family dynamics here are fascinating.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very slow-moving and lethargic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, nudity, sexuality and a scene of rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival last year and has been shown at prestigious film festivals ever since.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Christmas Tale
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bacurau