Thursday, December 13, 2012

Popcorn-munching in the land of Buñuel and Almodóvar

One thing I wanted to do when in Spain was to see how a country of film lovers worship at the altar of cinema. Here in India... well... it's not my place to complain, for if people want to spend an evening dragging their family of 4 (including 2-year-old who bawls through the entire movie) half-way across town to sit next to folks who'd much prefer it if the theatre turned the volume down a mite so that they could carry on their private conversations without having to shout... who am I to criticize? After all, how people want to spend their money is their business.

And, in any case, who do I complain to? To the multiplex, who respect the films they're screening so very much that they deliver popcorn and drinks to the seat (complete with cash transactions and fumbling in the dark for change), while the show goes on? No, señoras y señores, my tastes do not run along those lines. I'd much rather stay at home and enjoy my films in the peace and quiet of my drawing room.

In the end, though, what with spending no more than two or three days in one city, I never really got to see as many films as I'd like. Only three, in fact. Report follows nevertheless:-

Valencia's Filmoteca, bang in the centre of the city. My favourite of the three. I saw John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle at a midnight screening here. For a Euro-and-a-half. Just seeing MGM's Leo in black-and-white on the big screen was a kick in itself. During the show, there wasn't so much as a whisper, save for the odd chuckling in appropriate places; no mobiles were in sight; and food wasn't allowed in the halls. And then, once the end credits started rollling, polite clapping from the audience.

Seville's Avenida 5 Cines (I think). This hall was just as quiet as the Filmoteca, but given that there were just three of us for the show, it would've taken a miracle for it to be anything else. The film itself - The Guard (El irlandés, The Irish, in Spanish) - was wonderful. A quiet and funny meditation on loneliness and unlikely friendships. And with enough politically incorrect jokes to make it truly memorable.

“There were gays in the IRA?”
“One or two. It was the only way we could successfully infiltrate MI5”.

Barcelona's I-don't-remember-where. Just a run-of-the-mill multiplex, in any case. It's like this. It was the one night I decided to turn in early (morning engagement) and I couldn't get to sleep. So a little after midnight, I padded down to the reception and enquired where the nearest cinema was. The receptionist seemed shocked. There's a TV in your room, she said. No, no, I replied, I want the full popcorn-and-reclining-seat experience. Well... she hesitated, there's one about a kilometre down the road. But, still trying to dissuade me, the movie'll be in Spanish. Quite all right, I said.

On my way to the hall, I moodily reflected on how just one thoughtless receptionist could reduce to rubble a tourist's palace of fantasy about a world-famous city. Why the goggle eyes and the slow, careful tone of one speaking to an unreasonable child? Is it so abnormal to want to go for a movie dubbed into a language you don't understand, in the middle of the night in one's pyjamas and slippers? Isn't that just what folks in Barcelona do all the time? Because if it isn't, I wasn't sure I wanted to be spending so much money to be there.

Anyway, the film was Taken 2. (Titled in Spanish much more impressively as Venganza: Conexión Estambul.) I hadn't seen Taken 1, but I gathered from the poster that in this second film they're coming for him (Liam Neeson), having spent much of the first film coming for his daughter. How did they manage to fill an entire movie on the topic of them coming for his daughter, though? Did they come from very far? Questions, questions.

In any case, given the overall dumbness of the movie, I don't think I missed anything by not understanding the dialogue. A couple of scenes, in fact, were so cringe-inducingly bad that they spoke to me through the language barrier. Like the one where there's Neeson, his wife, and three or four bad guys. Guns everywhere pointed at each other's heads. Classic Mexican standoff. So what does Neeson do? He takes his phone out from inside his coat, dials his daughter's number dexterously with one hand (the other hand is pointing a gun at three villains, remember?) and asks her who she'd like to see live: her dad or her mom? Just the sort of philosophical question every child likes to ponder over in the middle of the afternoon, while she's trying to get her boyfriend on the phone. The gun-wielding bad guys were extraordinarily well behaved too, and waited politely for him to finish his conversation. No unsporting potshots while he was engaged with his mobile...

Anyway, it doesn't matter. It's not about the movie. The important thing is, I got to feel really cool getting out of bed in the middle of the night, going out for a movie on a whim and then walking back to my hotel at three in the morning. There were still people around. Friends gathered under lampposts. A boy and girl canoodling on a park bench. It was lovely.


So, my verdict on cinema-going in the land of legendary filmmakers? Underwhelming, I must admit. I dislike very much this business of dubbing films. The proper way of showing foreign-language films is by subtitling them and keeping the original language track. Watching a dubbed film is like... I dunno... it's just very bad. And most cinemas there dub all non-Spanish films. To find a film in English, you have to carefully go through page after page of listings for what they call Version Original films - which are very few in number. I expected more from a country which has produced so many fantastic films.

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