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Thursday, December 18, 2014 (read 511 times)

Spanish Holiday Movies

by David

Because Spain is a country that has always given more importance to the Three Kings than Santa Claus, there has never been Spanish production of a "typical" Christmas movie--snow, Santa, reindeer and presents on Christmas Day. Curiously, if you happen to be in Spain for the holidays you will find that American holiday films dominate the television offerings which will make you feel quite at home if you are an English speaker, but these movies don't capture the holiday reality found outside your door. So what Spanish movies best reflect the holiday spirit found in Spain? Here are a few choices we can offer you to put you in a Spanish holiday state of mind.

Felices Pascuas (1954)

This movie, directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, is the product of the times it was made in—Post civil-war Spain. Bardem, who was Javier Bardem's uncle, was an outspoken critic of the Franco dictatorship and his career was a constant struggle to make movies that were critical of the regimen while receiving the approval of the political and church censors. Not always successful, he would be arrested numerous times and finally thrown in jail for political reasons during the filming of Calle Mayor (1956).

For Felices Pascuas, Bardem presents us to a working class family (the father is a barber and the mother a manicurist) who happen to win a prize in the El Gordo Christmas lottery. Due to a twist of fate the tickets were watered down into participaciones (fractioned into smaller valued tickets) and instead of winning his 15,000 pesetas (or the equivalent of €3000, a small fortune in Spain at the time), he won a lamb for Christmas dinner. As if that weren't enough the lamb the family receives is still alive and his children have fallen in love with it. The movie goes on to see how the family resolves this Christmas dilemma. Of course this movie comes with an artificially happy ending as would be expected in country still deep under the control of a dictatorship.

This film is worth watching to see how life was in hermetic post-civil war Spain (even from an idealized point of view) right before Spain began to reach out to the world. Bardem's mastery of inserting critical social views in the guise of a family holiday movie is notable and is a taste of even more biting commentary that would appear in the classic Death of a Cyclist and Calle Mayor.

Plácido (1961)

Luis García Berlanga like fellow director Bardem was critical of the social and political situation and expressed himself best in film. Plácido is look at provincial town life and how a stratified society has created enormous discomfort for some of the more well-off citizens. In an ostentatious and self serving attempt to cleanse their conscious, the well-to-do decide to invite homeless and poor people of the villages to share in their Christmas Eve dinner at their homes and offer them comforts that they don't normally benefit from . In addition to this, numerous b-movie actors are invited from Madrid to participate in this town party that includes a Christmas parade where the protagonist of the movie, Plácido, is hired to participate with his brand new truck in the parade. Plácido is humble trucker just barely getting by and unfortunately for him his mind is on other things, like making his first loan payment on his truck which is due this very same day. Due to the circumstances of the day coupled with some unforeseen events, poor Plácido may not be able to the payment.

This movie was a success both inside and outside of Spain, receiving a nomination for the Oscar for Best Foreign Movie in 1962. Unfortunately for Berlanga, he would lose out to Ingmar Bergman and his movie Through a Glass Darkly.   Berlanga presents us with a harsh look at Spanish society and exposing the inequalities that existed (and exist today) during this time. He also takes issue with the hypocritical, judgmental, pretentious and moralistic Spanish society of the 1950s. This movie, even though it was made within Franco's dictatorship, we see that the themes touched on then are just as applicable today—an indictment of individualism and lack of kindness. The movie ends with a Christmas carol that would later create many problems for the director with the regimen: "Mother there is a boy at the door and he's crying that he's cold. Go and tell him to come in and warm himself up, because on this Earth there isn't any charity. There never has been and there never will be."

El día de la Bestia (1995)

Spain's bad-boy director, Alex de la Iglesia burst onto the scene with the irreverent and hypnotic movie that is not what one would consider a traditional Christmas movie. More horror than Home Alone yet with a dark humor that keeps you laughing, this groundbreaking movie will take you into the twisted world of Alex de la Iglesia. Similar in style to Almodovar, de la Iglesia takes us through the seedy underbelly of Madrid through the eyes of an apocalyptic Catholic priest, Father Angel.

Cabalistic Father Ángel has been studying the bible trying to decode the coming of the anti-christ. Through his studies he was able to determine that the antichrist would be born on Christmas Day 1995. This moment also coincides with a growing wave of vandalism and petty crime in the capital—a sure sign that the end of the world was near. Convinced that he was chosen to prevent the birth of the anti-Christ and subsequent apocalypse, Father Ángel decides to go "undercover" to discover where the birth will take place. This means that Father Ángel must sin like crazy, doing anything and everything to get in the good graces of the devil. Along the way he finds death metal companion (Santiago Segura) and an Italian tv host (Armando De Razza).

For lovers of the Almodóvar and his almost hysterical and outrageous over-the-top style, you will probably like this movie. For a very untraditional Spanish Christmas treat, this is a good movie to check out.

Noche de Reyes (2001)

You may recognize the name of this directory, Miguel Bardem, since he is the son of director Juan Antonio Bardem and a cousin of Antonio Bardem. This film recaptures the silliness of early Hollywood and its sole purpose is to tell an entertaining holiday centered story. This film tells the story of a family on the edge of ruin during the holiday season. Ernesto (Joaquín Climent) is about to sign a contract to save his failing company but his future business partner suffers little bit of everything which foreshadows what is in store for the rest of the family on what should be the happiest of evenings to finish off the holiday season.

Similar in tone to Martin Scorsese's After Hours but much more light, this movie is a great opportunity to just enjoy a fun 90 minutes of offbeat and zany comedy. Without any greater pretensions, this is a great movie to enjoy with the entire family and enjoy some fun Spanish comedy.

Holiday Movies

Holiday movies are the domain of Hollywood which seems to pump out a new Christmas-centric blockbuster each year.  What Spanish cinema has done is use the holidays as a backdrop for other stories some wacky and crazy while others espouse love and family (La Gran Familia and No Dejaré Que No Me Quires, two movies that aren't mentioned above but are also worth a look). Spanish cinema has been very successful in the production of English speaking movies with Agora, The Others and The Impossible to name a few, but there is a wealth of Spanish movies to explore of all genres that are filmed in Spanish. Enjoy something new and different this holiday season and watch one these Spanish holiday films, we're sure you won't be disappointed.

Keywords: christmas movies,holiday movies,christmas movie,spanish movies,spanish movie,spanish cinema,spanish comedy

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