Sunday, 20 March 2011

A step beyond slap-stick comedy

More a fan of action movies and comedies than films with any sort of artistic standing, it is fair to say that until a month ago I was almost wholly ignorant of Spanish cinema. Aside from Amenábar´s much-coveted ´Abre Los Ojos´ , my movie repertoire was dominated by flicks featuring Bruce Willis, Hugh Jackman or superheroes. However, surrounded by friends who live opposite a Spanish arts cinema, I felt slightly bashful at my inability to contribute to any cinematic discussions that went beyond X-men or Terminator. My subsequent initiation into Spanish cinema, ´The Spirit of the Beehive´ (El Espíritu de la Colmena), didn´t exactly inspire confidence. Although described by critics as ´profound and affecting´, to me the film was simply two long hours of little dialogue, minimal action, even less camera movement and no obvious plot. More used to the crudely obvious, I think I simply failed to capture the deeper subtleties of the film.

As such, for my second foray into Spanish cinema, I went for something completely different: Airbag. I was warned it was an off-the-wall absurdity, but even so, I wasn´t prepared for such an outrageous, non-stop romp of bawdy sex and clumsy seduction, drugs and alcohol, high speed car chases, random violence and yet more bawdy sex and clumsy seduction. With only a limited command of Spanish it was nigh-on impossible to follow such a vibrantly ludicrous film. Even if I had understood every word, I doubt I would have grasped the plot of this hair-brained rollercoaster of debauchery. England and the United States are by no means short of slap-stick comedies, but the Spanish equivalent explodes the genre onto new levels.

Perhaps this is because the Spanish themselves are that little bit more outrageous.. The film certainly seems to have parallels with my flatmates. Take last Sunday, when I woke up groggily to a thumping electronic bassline coming from the lounge, as an example. Initially, head heavy with sleep, I thought I must still be in the midst of a drunken dream. However, on venturing warily out of my room, I was engulfed in a foggy haze of cigarette smoke and the smouldering blurry light of soft red lightbulbs. The lounge had been taken over an array of unknowns garbling rapid, incomprehensible Spanish, some dancing suggestively, others draped over the sofa, sprawled across the floor or on perched on various pieces of furniture.

Confronted with such a scene at midday on a Sunday, I seriously considered the possibility that someone had slipped something into my glass of wine the previous night and I was having some sort of delayed trip. However, reality was soon confirmed when my housemate, who was wearing a giant, white babygrow (he had obviously pyjama-ed up in anticipation of going to bed), bounded over anxious to check I wasn´t irritated by the impromptu Sunday morning booze-up. Slightly dazed and confused about time-of-day and day-of-week, I mumbled some sort of reassurance in Spanglish and bid a hasty retreat to the nearest café for a hot chocolate and a croissant.

Two drinks and three hours later, I was still somewhat apprehensive about returning to the boudoir: I whiled away most of day in the city and finally returned home at about 7.30pm. I was greeted by the ankle-nips of a scarily hyperactive dog (who I imagine had been making the most of the party´s fuel) and a lounge still bathed a brothel-esk red and abuzz with lively chatter. It wasn´t until about 10pm that the party died down to a manageable rumble and only four were left still standing.

No-one knows how to party quite like the Spanish: clubs don´t fill up until 3am, arriving home at 4am is considered to be a quiet night and it is not unsual for a wild friday night to blur into Saturday – possibly even Sunday as well. In this respect, I suppose that Airbag, for all of its absuridites and hedonism, is simply proportional to life in Spain.

If this is the case, interpreting ´Spirit of the Beehive´ is completely beyond me.

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