Poster 700x1000 AFIn her most recent role as the lead in They Are All Dead (Todos están muertos), which had its U.S. premiere at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, Spanish actress Elena Anaya plays an agoraphobic mother of a teenage boy (Christian Bernal) who lives with her mother (Angélica Aragón). Lupe, a former pop-rock star from the golden age of Spanish rock (la movida), becomes a shut-in after the death of her brother and former bandmate Diego (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Lupe has been in her house for years and the mere thought of facing the world fills her with anxiety. Anaya, who’s probably most widely recognized for her appearance in films by Pedro Almodóvar, gives a powerful performance, one that earned her the Best Actress award at the Malaga Film Festival.

In a recent conversation with Anaya, during a stop at MIFF with the film, she says of her character, “[Lupe] is a sort of princess that is locked up in her tower, fearful to all the outside ghosts that are nothing but ghosts from the past.”

The moving performance shows a woman who struggles for each word, a perfect fit for a former musician who has been through terrible loss and has since abandoned her craft. Without an outlet, Lupe feels constrained by her own body. “At the beginning of the movie, Lupe’s body is tight and contracted. She cannot relax into her own. It was a feeling that cannot be transmitted with words. I used gestures,” explains Anaya.

They are all dead

While Lupe is in the midst of her own sorrow, her 14-year-old son is being raised by another strong female presence, Lupe’s mother Paquita, a Mexican woman who is as strong as she is filled with folkloric beliefs. Chief among them is her conviction that for Lupe to move on, she has to settle unfinished business with her dead brother. Día de los Muertos provides the perfect excuse for Paquita to try to get her daughter out of the house.

Paquita also feels the pressure of her own mortality, as her grandson will be needing his mother soon. “One of the main themes behind the script is being able to say goodbye to someone that left without saying goodbye,” says Anaya. For director Beatriz Sanchís the theme is a very personal one, as Anaya reveals. “When Sanchís was very young a close friend of hers died suddenly in an accident, and she had fantasized with what would happen if she could run into him and say goodbye.” Indeed, the film has a personal feel to it, filled with nostalgia. It also intimately examines the lives of these characters. However, it is Lupe who has to carry the story.

They are all dead2

It was a challenging role for Anaya, which the actress took to heart. “This film is being told from a woman’s point of view.” And it is in this role that finds Anaya a complex, multidimensional individual feeling the weight of loss, the pressures of motherhood and the need to connect before being able to find her own way. “It’s a story about family, life, about death, about music, about forgiveness, so many different things,” she says in a sweet tone.

She credits Sanchís in helping her prepare, so she could inhabit this character long before shooting began. “I was very lucky to have Beatriz’s help months before official rehearsals began,” she says. “I was able to get to know this character well, being able to live her fears and feel them in every pore of my body.”

they-are-all-dead-f11-1024x540

Anaya certainly throws her whole body into this performance, and her transformation through Lupe jumps off the screen, in particular when she is behind the keyboard in footage shot on video of happier times on stage. Anaya found her inspiration for the rock star portion of the role in Ana Curra, a Spanish keyboardist best known for her role in Alaska Y Los Pegamoides. Her personal story is actually similar to the one depicted in They Are All Dead. “It was pure coincidence,” notes Anaya but explains that her look and photos of her melancholic gaze helped Anaya envision what it would have been like to be part of the booming rock scene in Spain in the 1980s.

“It’s a new film for me that was new from all perspectives,” adds the actress. While the role is a new endeavor for the actress, it was also very personal. “I recently lost my parents,” she mentions, but adds, “Death is part of life, and it is something that we all have to accept. That is why the film was so good for me.” With a combination of the rock scene in Spain in the 1980s — a golden age for that movement — imaginative moments through a narrative of Day of the Dead and some very sweet exchanges among family members, both living and dead, the film takes risks and delivers a touching story that shines through Anaya’s performance.

Ana Morgenstern

They Are All Dead does not have U.S. distribution, but hopefully someone will consider this movie, so others can see it. It premiered in the U.S. at the Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival this week. The festival concludes on Sunday.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Poster-art-for-Im-so-Excited_event_mainOnce again, work for “Miami New Times” is taking up my free writing time, but just as the band I interviewed last fits the Independent Ethos (The brothers of Inc. talk music with me in ‘Crossfade’/’Miami New Times’), so does this next subject: Pedro Almodóvar. I found his new film, I’m So Excited, to be his lightest in many years. I don’t think I’ve missed one of his movies since 1993’s KikaNot all of his films are perfect, and this new one falls more into his imperfect side. I prefer when he goes deep into the traumas that form our personas, like the recent Broken Embraces (2009) and Volver (2006). But then, that’s me. However, I’m So Excited is still better silly fun to be had in a movie theater than most dumb Hollywood comedies.

Speaking of Hollywood, when I interviewed two main actors in I’m So Excited, Javier Cámara and Blanca Suárez, I could not help but ask them what they thought of the difference in the treatment of sexuality in Hollywood versus a filmmaker like Almodóvar. You can read about their insightful reaction— from Cámara recalling his first experience watching an Almodóvar film to Suárez espousing on the director’s transgressive nature— in the resulting piece for the art and culture blog “Cultist” in the “Miami New Times” by jumping through the logo to the blog post below:

cultist banner

Almodóvar also has a reputation for being very controlling, so I asked the actors about that. Here, at least, is a little exclusive outtake from the interview, which took place last month at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, off Brickell Key in Miami:

Hans Morgenstern: I was wondering, how much character Pedro gives you, and how much character you’re expected to bring for him, because he’s kind of controlling about that, isn’t he?

i-m-so-excited-image07Javier Cámara: Yeah, yeah, he’s really controlling. He knows more than you in four lives [about] a character. He’s wandering around these characters for years. I remember that he told us once, “Oh, I’ve written another script in two weeks,” and he begins to tell us the story, and [I said], “Pedro, how could you do that?” because we were shooting every single day, 12 hours, and [he replied], “Yeah, I need to write.” He’s writing the whole time.

Blanca Suárez:  He needs to [be doing something] all the time, and he does it, writing, and he doesn’t ever stop.

Cámara:  Normally, he offers you a lot of ideas, [like taking] some courses in Latin or pilot courses or choreographies or whatever. He gives you all the information. “What do you need?” and then [he says] ‘Surprise me,’ and all these flamboyant and queeny characters … you need to put all these emotions into this. And, yes, it’s in the lines, but you have to dig a little bit because it’s a light film, and he’s a very flamboyant and queeny and, “Oh, we are going to die; let’s drink.” It reminds me of some George Cukor film, for example,im-so-excited-blanca-suarez [The] Women, and I remember that Pedro, offered to us, to Carlos [Areces who plays another cabin steward] and I, a scene about … yeah, Mujeres, Mujeres de Cukor, and I remember that we were improvising a little scene from Women, and at the end he cut the scene, because it’s like, ‘OK. I can’t improvise more.’ But he’s always doing improvisation about films from this moment in the 40s and the 50s. For example, Anne Bancroft. He told me, ‘Don’t turn yourself into Anne Bancroft.’ His life is always in the 40s and the 50s with the comedy. He loves Lubitsch and Wilder and Cukor. He was talking constantly about film, and this kind of lightness, like, “Anything is important.”

You both enjoy going back to working with him?

Suárez:  Of course.

Cámara:  Always!

Hans Morgenstern

I’m So Excited is in Spanish with English subtitles, runs 90 min. and is rated R (for being too darn sexual for American kids). It plays in South Florida exclusively at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. Sony Pictures Classics invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of these interviews

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Since I mentioned the wide release film that would conquer the weekend’s box office last week, Friday, I might try again this week: Twilight: New Moon. Ugh, since it’s the lead, there’s a pic of it, but, again, I ain’t seeing it.

Need I say why? I expect it to be just a contrived teen melodrama dressed up with the mythos of such archetypical characters of vampires and lycanthropes (not that all those movies are bad, it’s just a watered down version for the romance novel crowds). The worst part about it is that this new Twilight Movie is it helmed by the Hollywood hack Chris Weitz, who, along with his writers, offer the blind idealization of Hollywood’s interpretation of teenage life. It’s ironic that the first film’s director, Catherine Hardwicke, made her mark directing Thirteen, a movie about the complicated relationship between a young teen and her wannabe-cool-but-ultimately-messed-up mother. She just so happened to have co-written that movie with then 15-year-old Nikki Reed, an actress in the two Twilight movies.

As a matter of fact, none of the wide release movies this week appeal to me. The Blind Side, looks like another schmaltzy underdog sports story that doubles as a star-vehicle for Sandra Bullock. I’d expect to be a predictable torture, which is what I hate most about those kinds of movies. I take no pleasure in watching a movie where I know exactly how a story will not only turn out but how it will develop.

Then there’s Planet 51, which (by the trailer that I had to endure too many times to count alone) I can tell is just another CGI excuse to condescend to children. Dumb CGI movies like these (the last one I actually made it to the theater to watch was Shrek 2) insult the intelligence of children. What’s worse is that many of those children have not developed the aesthetic sensibility to know this. It’s crap filmmaking serendipitously designed to indoctrinate young minds to want to watch simple-minded Hollywood crap. As if this writing, the flick is dropping hard on the Tomato meter (at 15% as of this writing).

Planet 51’s “ingenious” idea to depict a human astronaut as an alien in an alternate planet stuck in the nostalgia of 50s American culture is just an excuse to retell the same old stupid jokes through some simple-minded twist in telling the story. One of the great similar animated sci-fi films of the last century is the French-Czech production Fantastic Planet, which, at least according to the experience shared by one of my film-loving friends, would blow the minds of any child headed to boost Planet 51 at least to number two at the BO this weekend. Watch the opening scene here:

This friend, when much older, told me about receiving a video tape of this movie and recalling, as a child, how it so disturbed him, as well it should have.Imagine humans on some strange planet whose dominant humanoid inhabitants are actually so large, that a human fits in the palm of its hand. These creatures then treat them either as pets or trivially toy with them in the wild as humans do in the real word with ants and flies. It was presented then as a criticism of the oppressive communist regime that then rules Czechoslovakia.

Before I digress more, let me just say Fantastic Planet is one of the greatest sci-fi films of the 20th Century, and deserves a look if you have not seen it.

broken-embraces-osThere are interesting movies coming out this week, at least in limited release. Master Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is set to release his second consecutive movie starring Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces, a combination that resulted in one of his best ever films, 2007’s Volver.

Then there is my favorite German filmmaker currently working Werner Herzog, who
has his second Hollywood film coming out (after the Christian Bale-starrer
Rescue Dawn): Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans of a bad cop to the Nth power, Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel. I’d even be keen on seeing what sounds like a nice departure for John Woo. Red Cliff is set in China during the rule of the Han Dynasty.

OK, so two predictions for this weekend’s BO: New Moon, of course, number one, and Planet 51, number 2. Hey, if anyone plans to see them let me know and what merits you might actually find in them…

In the meantime I am left to hunt out Almodovar’s and Herzog’s new releases… Anyone know where they’re playing in Miami?