This account of the life and films of the Spanish-Basque filmmaker Julio Medem is the first book in English on the internationally renowned writer-director of Vacas, La ardilla roja (Red Squirrel), Tierra, Los amantes del círculo polar (Lovers of the Arctic Circle), Lucía y el sexo (Sex and Lucía), La pelota vasca: la piel contra la piedra (Basque Ball) and Caótica Ana (Chaotic Ana). Initial chapters explore Medem's childhood, adolescence and education, and examine his earliest short films and critical writings against a background of a dramatically changing Spain. Later chapters provide accounts of the genesis, production and release of Medem's challenging and sensual films, which feed into analyses of their meanings, both political and personal, in which the author draws on traditions and innovations in Basque art, Spanish cinema and European philosophy to create a portrait of the director and his work.
During the forty years of the fascist dictatorship film noir was a bête noire, unable to show its face for fear of reprisals on its perpetrators. This chapter argues that, film noir in the Spain of the dictatorship was never more insidious and was never more relevant. Whereas American noir of the 1950s could be said to hold a dark mirror to American society that questioned the fundamental optimism of the American dream, no such pessimism about the Francoist dream was permitted. Imitative policíacas suffered from limited resources and an even more limited understanding, for there was little available film analysis that would define the genre for filmmakers. As Paul Schrader contends, realism was key to the tone and mood for it 'succeeded in breaking film noir away from the domain of high-class melodrama, placing it where it more properly belonged, in the streets with everyday people'.
This chapter begins by surveying the work of José Luis Guerin and contextualises his career, his films and their reception within arguments relating to the relationship between local, European and world cinema. Thereafter, a revision of his earlier, complementary works leads to an analysis of En la ciudad de Sylvia/In the City of Sylvia and its construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of memory and myth by allusion to Henri Bergson's theory of an intuitive sense of the durée (duration) of time and its relevance to Gilles Deleuze's theory of the time-image, as well as the affined philosophies of the flâneur and the psychogeography of the dérive (drift) as practised by Guy Debord and the Situationist International. The aim is to delineate a textual analysis of a peculiar example of the contemporary Spanish art-house and to reveal a progressive, modernist, even Cubist notion of cinema that is exemplified in this film's elaboration.
The performance of Basqueness by Carmelo Gómez and Silvia Munt
This chapter examines the re-construction of regional and national identities through acting. In doing so, it dissects the performances of Carmelo Gómez and Silvia Munt, two actors made famous for their multiple and iconic Basque roles. By closely examining their performances, the chapter argues that the actors’ false identities articulate a Basqueness that is at once desirable and desiring, fraught with unattainability; that is, the creation of Basque archetypes by non-Basque actors may ultimately render nonexistent whatever potential promise or threat they contain. Going against the presumption that an actor may be able to breach the gap between his or her personal identity and that of the character, the chapter argues instead that their performances will always be inauthentic, that audiences assume this fact, and that this shades cinematic acting in very important ways.
This chapter presents accounts of several interviews conducted with Julio Medem, who is regarded as the most important and original Spanish filmmaker. Medem was born in San Sebastián, Basque Country, Spain and showed an interest in movies since childhood, when he would take his father's Super 8 camera and shoot at night, avoiding everybody's attention. He enjoys a reputation in Basque, Spanish, European and even World cinema for the colourful eroticism, subjective camerawork, elaborate plotting, structural equations, straight-faced absurdity and obsessions with symmetry, duality and chance that characterise the films he has written and directed. The interviews suggest that claims on Medem's auteurism combine appreciation of his subjectivity with an indulgence of his solipsism and a justification of authorial punctuation in the service of emotion, reflection and melancholy, but often separate him from the traditions, legacy, clichés and contemporary context of Spanish, and especially Basque, cinema.
This chapter presents an account of Julio Medem's early years and a background of his family, lineage and ethnicity. It also throws light on what made Medem politically aware and inclined him towards films. Medem's initial attempts at making films were from his own household. His educational training was in anatomy, but he never practised medicine. 1983 to 1985 are described as Medem's film buff years, when he found out that he really liked the auteurist cinema. 1984 was when he enrolled himself for a course in professional video. Medem collaborated on the script, direction and editing of José María Tuduri's Crónica de la segunda guerra carlista, which prepared him for his narrative, Vacas. In 1989, he won a commission to write, direct and edit a short feature, El diario vasco. Eventually, Medem set the bar high for a ‘New Basque Cinema’.
This chapter discusses the first narrative filmed by Julio Medem, Vacas. Vacas was to mark a new way of filmmaking in Spain, based upon independent financing, pre-sold distribution rights, American-style publicity, innovative strategies for attaining foreign sales and a fresh emphasis on the notion of the filmmaker as auteur. Magical realism is present in the paradox of the union of opposites such as life and death in the portal of the hole in the tree, as well as in the tensions that exist between the feudal, rural past of the Basque Country in the nineteenth century. Vacas is not just Medem's artful positioning as a Basque filmmaker in relation to Basque nationalism and Basque cinema, it is also an ironic reflection on his feelings about Basqueness and the emotional investment in its meaning that he makes with this film and his own son.
This chapter describes the film La ardilla roja, which is about a suicidal ex-rocker called J who takes advantage of Sofía's amnesia to convince her to be his girlfriend. It discusses the process of scripting, casting, shooting and editing the film. Medem made his cast understand the subjective truths of their fabricated characters by endowing them with genuine emotion. La ardilla roja, which was shot in nine weeks on a budget of 200 million pesetas, was ultimately to be screened at Cannes. Medem designed a fresh, natural look for the film that affected a realistic contrast to the subjectivities of the protagonists and the range of flamboyant point-of-view shots underwater, inside jukeboxes, from the perspective of the squirrel. Having initially gone begging for an American distributor, La ardilla roja was eventually sold to ancillary markets in twenty-seven countries, including all of Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Cuba.
This chapter discusses Julio Medem's film Tierra, his budget for which was 380 million pesetas. Medem wrote the script for Tierra keeping specific Spanish starts in mind. It is a comedy of errors in which the biggest mistake is to take everything too seriously. The representation of the landscape and references to the borders that define the territory challenge the ambiguity or ‘undecidability’ of Tierra. The film begins with its title, which appears twice during the credit sequence. This allows for the film to be read as both a universal fable of existential angst, as a satirical treatise on the Basque–Spanish divide, and as a localised examination of personal and romantic tribulations. The backing of Tierra as an auteurist work prompted Medem to fabricate it as a suitably assertive illustration of the philosophical concerns that had underpinned his formation as a filmmaker.
This chapter discusses Julio Medem's Los amantes del Círculo Polar. Spanish film audiences grew during the decade of the 1990s, along with the number of private television channels and new cinemas. Medem situated himself at the centre of his own Ptolemaic universe in the writing of the character of the protagonist of the film, the budget for which was set at 400 million pesetas. In the margins of the shooting script, Medem describes his story as a passionate fable with an atmosphere of great emotional tension. He also notes that any colours are to be neutralised by filters so that the controlled, schematic coolness of the film's structure offsets the passionate, romantic intensity of the characters. Also crucial to the film, and a notable advance in Medem's writing, was the structural, philosophical and thematic integration of a female subjectivity which balanced that of the male.