Posts Tagged ‘1980s’

In 1963 Roberto Rossellini claimed that cinema was dead. That same year in Cali, Colombia, 14-year-old Luis Ospina got hold of his first camera and began to devote himself to film-making.

Todo Comenzó por el Fin is the story of Ospina’s 45-year-old relationship with cinema. But it is also, and most importantly, the portrait of a generation of movie-lovers and their struggle to fill their youth and city with films.

Jumping back and forth from exclusive footage of their early works, never-ending parties and scenes from a 2010s reunion, Ospina documents his relationship with the beautiful and damned Cali-based cinefiles who fathered Colombia’s 1980s cinematic renaissance: Caliwood.

Ospina is, to date, one of the few surviving icons of that golden era. Together with the late writers-directors-actors Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo, he revolutionised Colombia’s cinema and became a key figure for future generations of film-makers. He contributed to the birth of tropical gothic, a genre that combined the European gothic tradition with the gruesome heritage of Colombia’s colonial past. He edited (and starred in) two of Mayolo’s goth classics: Carne de tu Carne (1983) and La Mansión de Araucaima (1986), and as a documentarist, he coined (and successfully debunked) porno-miseria, the all-encompassing discourse of poverty and violence through which Colombia had been historically framed by fellow directors of the time (for a full exposure of such narratives, see his seminal Agarrando el Pueblo).

Todo Comenzó por el Fin traces a genealogy of Colombian cinema seen from the eyes of those who took part in the sea-changes of the 1980s. We see clips from Mayolo’s behind-the-scenes techniques, we watch Caicedo, Ospina and the rest of the Cali group setting up a cinefile-only commune and the city’s film-club, and we witness the evolution of Colombia’s cinema amidst the drugs-fuelled violence that plagued the country.

Ospina’s latest work is a nostalgic testament of the moveable cinematic feast that swept through 1980s Cali. But it is also a sad memoire of the relationship between its leading characters and death. Caicedo committed suicide at 25, Mayolo succumbed to a life of excesses aged 61, and some thirty years after Caliwood’s belle époque Ospina too had a near death encounter with cancer, which the film documents until its happy ending.

Seen from this angle, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a survivor’s tribute to the ways cinema can offer a possible way out of death. It is, after all, through films that bed-ridden Ospina mocks his passing away, juxtaposing footage of his hospital life with old black-and-white American movies, and through film-making that he does justice to his friends’ memories and his city’s past.

In the words of Caliwood-member and theatre director Sandro Romero Rey, theirs was a band of cinema-lovers and cinema-makers who helped each other to stay alive. After watching Todo Comenzó por el Fin, one realises that staying alive is, for Ospina, inextricably bound with the need to preserve the past intact – a task which only cinema seems able to fulfil.

Premiered at Toronto’s 40th Film Festival in 2015 and winner of FICCI56’s Colombian Cinema Best Director award, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a cinefile’s touching portrait of an extinct era that will speak to Ospina’s fans as much as non-Colombian cinema-lovers.

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Wild Tales aside, it’s been a terribly long time since a Spanish-language thriller has revelled in worldwide regard. Six years have passed since Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) by director Juan José Campanella scored a wide audience along with critical acclaim (including an Oscar nomination), and Marshland (La Isla Mínima) has qualities akin to its success.

It is the universal aspect of the crime yarn that compels us; a story that could happen anywhere – when framed around a specific culture – can take on a new meaning. The Spanish backdrop, and 80s setting, give Marshland a paradoxically fresh feel, along with that gritty tone that mystery/thriller audiences crave.

The plot is something you have may have seen before, yet hearing that different language, and seeing an unfamiliar environment – different to that of say London or New York – gives it a special essence. Of course, this perspective can primarly be experienced by those less aware of European cinema, but however familiar you are or aren’t, Marshland should not be missed.

It is 1980, in the South of Spain, and deep within the harshest environment, two bodies have been found – those of two missing girls. A pair of homicide detectives are sent to solve the case, ahead of the harvesting season, and before more trouble erupts in the town.

Every review or word you hear about Marshland will speak highly of its cinematography. The spectacular imagery of the titular landscape opens the film – and continues as transitional edits throughout. Cinematographer Alex Catalán’s eye for darkness and splendour helps the film address its symbolism – it is, after all, about the murders of innocent, beautiful girls. For audiences comfortable with the more prime time crime dramas, this may be too morbid in tone. However, the film’s biggest draw is its murkiness.

Director Alberto Rodriguez does a sterling job at generating tension through his lengthy fixation on gloom. Visually the film combines a murky yellow, foggy grey and a steel blue palette, something like Darius Khondji’s Seven photography. In many respects, Marshland will live longer in memory thanks to Catalán’s sense of what makes a crime film look great.

Additional praise must go towards Javier Gutiérrez and Raúl Arévalo for their performances. Relatively secretive and silent, the two actors lend more expression to denoting emotion. It aligns with the film’s sensibilities – that of soft disquiet. They develop well, giving the audience opportunities to understand their motivation and skills. By the end you are rooting for them 100%, giving the film’s volatile finale added dread.

An excellent addition to the wide catalogue of crime films, Marshland compels all the way through. Its short box-office life in the UK can be ignored in light of its deserved success on home entertainment and 10 Goya awards in Spain. To settle down in the dark with Rodriguez’s drama is a rewarding, and cinematic, experience. He uses the medium well, scoring and editing the film masterfully to keep your eyes locked on the screen.

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