Sunday, 17 March 2013

¡VIVA! Festival 2013 @ Cornerhouse

This month The Cornerhouse plays host to the 19th ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, transporting audiences away from the grim, grey streets of Manchester and into a world filled with the spice and colour of Spanish culture.

From the get-go, however, ¡Viva! demonstrates how Spanish and Latin American identity is made up of much more than just pure fun and frivolity. Yoshua Okón’s video installation, Octopus (2011), in Gallery 1 reminds us of the incredibly dark undercurrent that has plagued life in Guatemala since its civil war in the 1980s.

The performance itself is a re-enactment of this civil war, with the performers made up of those who were forced to fight. There is one major difference, however. The old battleground of Guatemala is instead replaced by a new one: the carpark of a Home Depot in LA. The war itself claimed over 200,000 victims, most of whom were Mayan Indians, in an attempt by Guatemala’s military leaders to eliminate the leftwing guerrilla uprising that threatened the existence of the country’s rightwing dictatorship.

Rather than use graphic imagery to draw attention to the sheer barbarity of the civil war, Okón uses satire to demonstrate how these atrocities were not only ignored by the Western world, but actively promoted. Okón’s positioning of the piece in a Home Depot, a physical embodiment of American capitalist society, points to the controversial relationship between Guatemala and America.

Reagan’s administration in America helped support the oppressive totalitarian regime in Guatemala by approving the sale of $6.36 million worth of military arms to its genocidal dictator, Efrain Rios Montt. Okón explores this through a layer irony, which is achieved using a complex system of camera angles and perspectives, projected into an almost 360 degree environment, completely immersing you in the action.

The accompanying piece in the gallery, US (2005), has a similar tone of to it. It is a single-channel four minute animation which consists of a solid gold monument of the letters ‘US’ towering above Washington, DC. The letters revolve on the spot and appear to act as some sort of shrine to either the American dream or corporate greed, the difference between the two being perhaps too close to separate.

The premiere screening of the festival’s launch night was ¡Atraco! (which translates as Hold-Up!), directed by Eduard Cortés. The film explores the real life events which led to an attempted jewellery shop robbery in Madrid during the 1950s. In an elaborate plot, akin to that of the Ocean’s Eleven series, two Argentine Peron loyalists attempt to steal back jewels which had been previously pawned to fund their leader’s time in exile. The reason for wanting the jewels was that they now risked falling into the hands of the Spanish dictator General Franco’s wife, having been previously owned by Argentina’s first lady Eva Peron. Still with me?

Despite its complexity, the film is undoubtedly an audience pleaser, with the two robbers in question truly stealing the show (cough, no pun intended). Guillermo Francella and Nicolás Cabré perform their roles as Merello, the exasperated veteran, and Miguel, hapless sidekick, down to a tee. In fact, the best moments of the film come when both characters argue and engage with each other in a quick-fire comedic way, re-enforcing their roles as experienced pro and naive first timer.

One of the funniest running gags throughout the film was how both of these Argentines managed to wrestle with the task of pretending to be Spanish in order to not arouse suspicion. In one scene, in which Miguel tries to rehearse the robbery, Merello tells him to be more Spanish and shout “bollocks” when he walks into the store. This, of course, goes about as well as you can expect, provoking a greater amount of laughter than it does terror.

Ultimately, it’s the fine balance between comedy and tragedy which makes ¡Atraco! such a captivating film to watch. Through his direction, Cortés has managed to create a film which is warm, charming and enjoyable, and yet also makes us question the true meaning of loyalty, family, friendship and brotherhood.

Words: Joseph Barratt.
Images: courtesy of The Cornerhouse.

The 19th ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival continues at The Cornerhouse until Sunday 24 March, 2013.

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