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Move Over Almodovar
Spanish Film Festival in Beijing
by Antonio Roque

Tired of watching pirated VCD movies with cheesy, predictable Hollywood plots? Take heart, the Spanish Film Festival is coming to town. Following last year's successful debut, this year's Spanish Film Festival, hosted by the Spanish Embassy and China Film Archive, will be held at the China Film Archive on Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18.

This year's festival features four new films by four talented Spanish directors - Alejandro Amenbar, Montxo Armendriz, Antonio Jos Betancor, and Jos Luis Garci. Friday's screening features Armendriz's Secretos del Coraz-n (Secrets of the Heart), followed by Amenbar's Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). Saturday's screening features Garci's El Abuelo (The Grandfather) followed by Betancor's Mararia.

Alejandro Amenbar
Amenbar is a relative newcomer to the film world, but is already making waves across the world with his unique cinematic style. With only three films to his credit, including a short called Luna [1996], Amenbar is winning the attention of big-name producers, including Tom Cruise.

Amenabr's first feature film Tesis [1996], a classic thriller, has already been purchased for a remake by the producers of box-office hits In The Name of the Father and The Boxer, both directed by Ireland's Jim Sheridan and Arthur Lappin. Amenbar has said publicly that while he is not planning to participate in any remakes of his films for Hollywood, he is proud of the tremendous interest in his work.

His most recent film, Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) [1997], is a tragic love story that focuses on Cesar, a wealthy, self-centered man who falls in love with his friend's girlfriend Sofia. Cesar schemes to steal Sofia from his friend Pelayo. Just when Sofia begins to respond to Cesar's advances, Nuria, a woman infatuated with Cesar, takes him on a wild car ride. The end of the escapade marks the beginning of Cesar's first brush with rejection and isolation.

The film was purchased for remake by Cruise and producer Paula Wagner after it was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

Montxo Armendriz
Armendriz, a former science professor, switched careers after he bought his first 8mm film camera in the 1980s. His earliest works included a series of short documentaries that addressed pressing social, cultural and political issues. Armendriz then turned to making feature-length films with social themes.

"There are two themes that interest me," Armendriz told El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper. "One is the human condition in the actual moment, and the other is what we find in the human condition that is basic and universal."

His most recent feature, Secretos del Coraz-n (Secrets of the Heart) [1997], set in a small Spanish town in the 1960s, is the story of Javi, a nine-year-old boy who goes into the mountains with his brother to try and solve their father's murder. By the end, Javi's journey leads him to the discovery that the world is full of deceit, passion, love and death, leaving his innocence irrevocably altered.

Antonio Jos Betancor
Betancor's filmography spans over two decades. His films Sentados al Borde de la Ma-ana (Sitting at the Edge of Morning) [1978], Valentina [1982], and Mararia [1998] are all award-winning.

In his most recent work, Mararia, Betancor weaves a tale of love, jealousy, passion and death in the small town of Lazarote, Spain. In a style evocative of magical realism, the film tells the story of Mararia, a woman whose failed marriage, shattered dreams and a tragic accident drives her to the brink of insanity. Shortly after it was released, Mararia took home the Maspalomas Film Festival's Public Choice Award, as well as the Goya Award in cinematography.

Jos Luis Garci
Garci is by far the most experienced and prolific director of the four. His career spans over more than a quarter of a century and includes more than 15 films. His latest work, El Abuelo (The Grandfather) [1998], is set at the turn of the 20th century in a northern Spanish town.

The film tells the story of a man whose sense of family honor is threatened after learning a dark family secret. Nearly blind and bankrupt, Don Rodrigo, a count and a lord, returns to his hometown from America. He learns from his dying son that one of his two granddaughters, the family's only heirs, is illegitimate, and therefore does not possess the noble Albrit blood. As his own life draws to an end, Don Rodrigo is driven by the need to learn the truth.

The Spanish Film Festival begins this Friday, March 17, with 'Secretos del Coraz-n' (Secrets of the Heart), followed by 'Abre Los Ojos' (Open Your Eyes). It continues Saturday, March 18 with 'El Abuelo' (The Grandfather), followed by 'Mararia'. All films are in Spanish with English and Chinese subtitles, except 'Abre Los Ojos,' which does not have English. Shows begin at 6:30 pm at the China Film Archive. Tickets are RMB50 per night. See the Zhao Le Directory for venue information.



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