Tuesday 1 September 2015

Cinematic Musings

Foreign cinema is not for everyone. It is, however, a big passion of mine (bet you didn't know THAT..!). There is a whole world of extraordinary films in the World Cinema arena. Many people, wrongly, assume foreign cinema equals dismal, pretentious tedium, when nothing could be further from the truth. For those already acquainted with foreign cinema, you will doubtless already be aware of films such as Life is Beautiful, which is, arguably, the only film in existence capable of eliciting comedy from the Holocaust, whilst remaining dignified and respectful to the subject. You may have seen the stellar 'Downfall', in which Bruno Gantz gives a chilling performance as Adolf Hitler, in the final days of the Third Reich. Perhaps you've been treated to the wonderful 'Jean De Florette', a beautiful, entertaining French film starring Gerard Depardieu. 

One film I am fairly certain you won't have come across is a Spanish production, and happens to be one of my all time favourite films. My recent brush with cancer made me revisit this masterpiece a few days ago. I haven't seen it for some considerable time, however, on first viewing, I reviewed it for the IMDB. I'd like to whet your appetite, and introduce you to a truly extraordinary piece of cinema. If you are new to foreign films, or an "old hand", this is a wonderful way to start a journey into World Cinema, rekindle your passion, or simply add to the repetoire. That film is 'Planta 4a'...

Planta 4a is a truly remarkable film. A coming of age drama, dealing with first love, basketball, the usual childhood mischief, and above all, friendship. Essentially a comedy, this will definitely bring laughter, and maybe a few tears along the way… I cannot recall seeing a coming of age drama with such a refreshing honesty suffused with sadness and humour since 'Stand By Me'. Oh, and by the way… it just happens to be set in the cancer ward of a hospital.

One could be forgiven at this point for thinking that this sets the scene as thoroughly depressing. It is anything but! The young lads suffer from cancer, and while that is never forgotten, nor overlooked, it never dominates the film, choosing to remain almost in the background. Director Antonio Mercero has managed to take a difficult subject, and bring true unflinching humour into the story, whilst never making light of the gravity of the illness the boys suffer from.

Made all the more remarkable by the fact that it is based on a true story, that of Albert Espinosa, a long time sufferer, and survivor of cancer, it is little surprise to note that the film has already won numerous awards, and much critical acclaim. Lead actor Juan José Ballesta, himself a Goya award winner for his astonishing performance in 'El Bola' turns in a stunning performance, although the same is true of the rest of the young, and mostly hitherto unheard of, cast.

Originally a theatrical piece, 'Los Pelones', or 'The Baldies', this adapts very well to the big and indeed small screen. 'The Baldies' is the name affectionately given to the young patients, by the hospital staff, for obvious reasons, and drawing from his own experiences, Espinosa conveys beautifully, the emotions and trials of growing up with cancer, and indeed just plain growing up. The film treats the individuals as exactly that; a group of young lads, finding their way in the world, their places in the social pecking order, and dealing with all the normal things teenage boys deal with. Never once are they treated as 'victims', and rightly so. They are ordinary teenagers, from different backgrounds, dealing with different emotions and problems, whilst all sharing one common factor, which never once overtakes the coming of age theme the film so eloquently portrays.

It is directed with such simplicity and refreshing honesty, that Mercero has created a true masterpiece. Given the choice of subject matter, and the fact that this is, in essence, a comedy, a film like this is a very delicate balancing act. It would be all too easy for the balance of the film to sway at any point, and yet it never does. It walks a fine line between drama and comedy, never once faltering, and it is to be respected for that.
Planta 4a contains several scenes which maybe unsuitable for younger viewers, however they are all in keeping with the overall tone of the film. There is nothing gratuitous or unnecessary; the strong language is appropriate given the age of the boys – teenage boys swear; it's just another part of the rich tapestry of their lives.

This film is an absolute joy to watch – it will make you cry with laughter, and in places, will probably just make you cry. There is sadness, naturally. It would be unrealistic if there was none, and yet again, it never overwhelms the film.

If you get the opportunity to see this, either at the cinema, or on DVD (which takes some finding, but it does exist), please, please do yourself a favour, and see it. Savour it – films like this are rare, but like any precious gem, finding them gives remarkable rewards. There are few films with cancer infused into the storyline, and even fewer that leave you with a warm and fuzzy feel-good factor. This film is one of those rare exceptions, which dares to take on a tough subject, and use it almost as a secondary theme.

I dislike 'scoring' peoples work, but in this rare instance I am happy to make an exception – this garners a very well earned 10 out of 10!

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