Δευτέρα, 29 Οκτωβρίου 2012

“Himenoptero” and “Luna”- The short films of Alejandro Amenabar

    On 1991 and at the age of 19, Amenabar wrote, directed and produced his first short film, “La cabeza”(The head), that only a few ever noticed and had access to. That was a 15-minute horror film where a woman, coming back from work finds a note from her husband saying that he was going to be late. Strangely enough, she notices a person in the house that turns out to be the husband who remains silent. The phone rings, police tells her that her husband died in an accident and immediately the figure disappears. That was the original story, but later Alejandro Amenabar and Mateo Gil decided to extend it, keeping the figure in the house and disfiguring his face. The wife, seeing this horrifying change, cuts of the head of the figure, which turned to skull stars bouncing in the house. The cartoon-like ending made the audience burst into laughter and completely destroyed the atmosphere, making the film simply unknown.

    His second short film, “Himenoptero” (Hymenopterous,1992), is actually the one that made Amenabar noticeable to some critics and film-addicts of that time. Amenabar, who also did the scriptwriting, combines a provocative theme with a clever trick; snuff films and film within a film. The story takes place in the corridors of a college where a group of cinema students gather up in order to shoot a horror film. The lead actress (played by Nieves Herranz) is not motivated enough, so the director, a pretty hard and ambitious girl, decides to take advantage of the strange relationship between the actress and the psychopathic camera-man (played by himself, Amenabar). From there starts a pretty interesting and well-filmed “game”, where the audience together with the cast doubt whether what is happening is true or not, acting or life (but that is what a snuff film is, isn’t it?). As about the actors, it is true that they are all young, yet there is not a really distinguishing talent.


    On his third and last short film, “Luna” (Moon,1995), Amenabar has once again (as at the previous two) the role of writer, director (together with Mateo Gil this time), producer, actor and soundtrack-composer. The story refers to how dangerous hitchhiking can be.  Alberto (Eduardo Noriega, excellent, though at the beginning of his career) is hitchhiking at the highway when a girl decides to take him along. Nothing could tell that this girl (Nieves Herranz) is a lunatic, desperately asking for attention and ready to reach till the edge to get it. This short horror-film is not that interesting as the first one, and as critics refer it suffers from bad script, moderate direction and photography. Moreover, it seems that the lead actress is exaggerating in a character that is already extreme, yet quite indifferent.

    As you can see, these two films are just showing a spark of what Amenabar showed some years after, yet it was enough to award “Himenoptero” with the prize of “Best short film” at Elche and Carabanchel Film Festival (1992), and “Luna” with “Luis Garcia Berlanga Award for best director”(1994) and “Best Music Award” of AICA (1994). But, even more importantly, these two films drew the attention of Jose Luis Cuerda (famous Spanish director), who fascinated by Amenabar’s work at his first steps (the tapes were actually sent to Cuerda to get familiar with the job of Nieves Herranz) decided to invest his money to Amenabar’s first long film “Tesis” (Thesis, 1996).

Κυριακή, 28 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Alejandro Amenabar

My movies are not movies of answers but of questions

    Counting 7 titles and starting his career at the age of 19, Amenabar is considered as a promising new-age director. Being also the writer, soundtrack composer and enjoying small roles from time to time, he truly seems multi-talented, yet now raises the question whether or not he keeps his personal style after his premier in Hollywood.
    Amenabar made his first steps in film-directing with two short horror films, “Himenoptero”(1992) and “Luna”(1995). His first short film, “Himenoptero” was a 33-minute surprising thriller with the basic idea of snuff films and Amenabar as director, writer, music-composer and actor (he played a silent role, a camera-man). His second short film “Luna” had a mediocre script, with a pretentious, yet indifferent woman-character (played by Nieves Herranz in one of her first and last films), moderate direction and photography. Nevertheless, it did introduce a great Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega (Tesis, Abre los ojos, Plata quemada, Che Guevara).   
    Just one year after his second short film, Amenabar did not hasitate making his debut in Spanish cinema with his first movie, “Tesis”(Thesis,1996) and was immediately thought to be a promising new director, often compared to Alfred Hitchcock for the pure cruelty of his horror films. The main idea of the film (the concept of enjoying an otherwise horrible spectacle of a snuff film) was also, as mentioned above, the idea of his first short film “Himenoptero”.  “Tesis” won several Spanish Academy awards and even reached Berlin Film Festival, preparing the audience for his Spanish blockbuster “Abre los ojos” (Open your eyes, 1997). “Abre los Ojos” did not catch Hollywood’s attention, though clearly impressed Tom Cruise, who starred in the Hollywood remake of the film “Vanilla Sky”, which, missing Amenabar’s direction and having Hollywood’s aesthetics, partially loses the novelty and atmosphere of the original.
    Yet, “Vanilla Sky” opened Hollywood doors for Amenabar who literally scored with his English-debut horror film “The others” (2001), receiving only good critiques worldwide. The spine-tingling chills, produced by the dark, foggy atmosphere created by Amenabar’s direction, the mysterious soundtrack, also composed by him, the outstanding performance of N.Kidman as a 1940’s semi-lunatic mother  of two light-allergic kids, and most-of-all the unexpected end were more than enough to characterize the film as remarkable.

    Considered to be at the top of his career Amenabar went back to Spanish films with “Mar adentro” (Sea within,2004), staring Javier Bardem as the true-life character of Ramon Sapedro,  a quadriplegic who fought for 30 years to win his right to end his life the way he wanted. The film shocked, and divided the critics, who either thought it was extremely true and sentimental, or just extravagant, with the sole intention of provoking the audience. The truth is J.Bardem was great in his role, Amenabar did a good job in the atmospheric scenes, especially the one with Ramon “flying” over the sea, and the soundtrack was well-chosen.
    After all that success, Amenabar decided to try for second time an English-language film, directing “Agora” (2009), which with its Spanish director, British actors, Hollywood-standard production, set in Roman Alexandria of 391AD, criticizing the crimes and destructions in the name of Christianity was promising to be really provocative and extra-ordinary, but, surprisingly enough, can be immediately forgotten after each screening and does raise the question ‘where is Amenabar?’. Rumor has it, he faces the results of his last-film’s failure, yet, he is just 30 years old. Maybe we have to be more optimistic when criticizing a promising talent and expect a stunning come-back from him in the future.

Τρίτη, 2 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Abre Los Ojos

From a prison cell in Madrid, Cesar, a 25-year-old in a prosthetic mask, tells his story to his psychiatrist in the form of flash-backs.Everything starts when a spoiled playboy meets an interesting girl at one of his private parties, but that doesn't go unnoticed by his obsessed stalker. After that point the plot loses its linearity and we get a succession of  dreams and "reality" shuffling through a dark, dream-like atmosphere until the "apocalyptic" ending, when all questions  are answered (or aren't they?). Amenabar's steady style with his surreal artistic references, excellent soundtrack (including Massive Attack's Risingson), and fresh acting from a bunch of talented cast make up for a puzzling yet really appealing film, which was remade in hollywood standards in 2001.