Monday, December 04, 2017


Apparently, Sony Pictures International has a business model where they finance/acquire the new movie from the Spanish guy who made something you remember from a while back, and then drop it in American theaters soon after its Spanish release on a slow week. Which, admittedly, gets me into the theater - seeing that this was from the guy who did No News From God aka Don't Tempt Me raised the same eyebrow that Abracadabra being from Blancanieves's Pablo Berger did - but it doesn't seem to have done so for that many other folks; the Saturday afternoon show I went to was dead, and it was abandoned by people either discovering that it was in Spanish or not the fun adventure it might have sounded like.

Speaking of director Agustin Diaz Yanes - I'm trying to remember where I saw No News From God - I remember it as part of the Brattle's Boston Fantastic Film Festival, but the dates don't seem to line up, and it doesn't seem like a Boston Film Festival When It Was Still Worthwhile thing. I'm also kind of stunned that after that, his next two films seem to have missed the US almost entirely, despite having pretty nice casts (Viggo Mortensen & Elena Anaya in Alatriste, Anaya & Diego Luna in Walking Vengeance), . They feel like things that should have at least hit the genre festival circuit, but I don't remember them popping up there at all.

The other interesting thing about this is that it seems like it comes unusually soon after the last movie with its general plot. Sure, it's hard to call two movies destined to be relatively little-seen a trend, but 2017 delivering both The Lost City of Z and Oro to theaters seems like a case of something starting to resonate in these quests for a perfect, unspoiled world bringing self-destruction, while the filmmakers try to balance their love for this sort of pulp adventure story with the racism and colonialism that are often part and parcel of them. The cherry on top of that, though, was having a trailer for Black Panther play before the movie - Marvel blockbuster it may be, but the film looks like the biggest, baddest "what would indigenous people have become without colonialism" thing ever made.

Oro (Gold)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 December 2017 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Oro opens with the aftermath of carnage, not bothering with any sort of build-up suggesting honorable intentions or excited curiosity for this set of conquistadors seeking a fabled city of gold. No, director Augustin Diaz Yanes leaps straight into cynical, cutthroat territory, and while that means there's less high adventure to hook an audience, there's still enough in the way of thrills to keep an audience excited.

That first scene takes place in April 1528, as Spanish soldier Martin Davila (Raul Arevalo) has just survived another battle with the natives, having set out from Puerto Cristo to find Tezutlan, a native city with roofs of gold on the other side of a wide river and mountains, described by the sole survivor of a previous expedition. This one is led by Don Gonzalo (Jose Manuel Cervino), though defers much the actual logistics to Lieutenant Alferez Gorriamendi (Oscar Jaenada), a fearsome officer who would intimidate even without his large, well-trained dog. Along with soldiers from every corner of Spain, the party includes Pater Vargas (Luis Callejo), there to spread the word of God to the "savages" of the Indies; Licenciado Ulzama (Andres Gertrudix), a scribe reporting on the expedition for the emperor; Mediamano (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a native guide; plus Doña Ana (Barbara Lennie), the Don's younger wife, and her maidservant La Parda (Anna Castillo). Though the servant seems to have found a paramour in Martin's comrade Iturbe (Juan Jose Ballesta), the former seems less satisfied with her mate, locking eyes with Martin even as Gorriamendi also shows interest. With weeks of traversing the jungle to go, this would be a volatile situation, and that's before one of the Don's men arrives from the city to say that another expedition has been sent with the additional goal of arresting Gonzalo.

As with a lot of foreign movies that make their way to the United States quickly rather than being carefully positioned and sold to a wider audience - Oro arrives just three weeks after its Spanish opening - this one probably has a fair amount more resonance in its native land than it does here, capturing something specific. In this case, it's a great deal of talk about how Spain is far from a unified, cohesive nation, something that perhaps strikes a chord as Catalan votes for its independence. Martin's opening narration describes how Spanish people in the army tend to congregate with others from their region, despising the rest until there is an immediate threat, at which point they will fight together. It's a thread that is pervasive throughout the film, reinforced as every conversation between two people seems to start with the first asking the second where he is from, and references to towns and regions on the other side of the Atlantic dot conversation, seeming to pop up most gratuitously when things are at their most tense. It is no wonder that the party seems to reach the verge of disintegration quickly, or that the sympathetic characters (such as they are) seem to be the ones with the weakest connection to their regions - Martin, who is from Trujillo but who figures he will never return, and Ana, whose origins are initially the subject of some speculation.

Full review on EFC.

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