New generation prefers glum themes to gloss of Almodovar, Amenabar

MADRID — Fifteen years after Julio Medem and Alejandro Amenabar burst through, Spain’s getting another generational makeover.

Nobody’s talking about a Spanish Nueva Ola. There’s no radical break in styles.

But, slowly, under-40 film-makers are making their mark:

  • Spain’s highest-grossing directors this year are first- or second-time cineastes: Jose Corbacho and Juan Cruz’s “Tapas” grossed E3.6 million, ($4.5 million), Roberto Santiago’s “The Longest Penalty in the World” $6.2 million and Benito Zambrano’s “Habana Blues” $3.8 million.

  • Beyond fest opener Montxo Armendariz with “Obaba,” the oldest Spanish directors competing at September’s San Sebastian Festival are Chema de la Pena with “Sud Express” and Manuel Martin Cuenca (“Malas temporadas”), both born in 1964. “Sud’s” co-director, Gabriel Velazquez, is 37; Alberto Rodriguez (“Seven Virgins”) is 34.

  • Local reviewers can come down like a ton of boulders on homegrown product, and yet recent critical hits include Roger Gual and Julio D. Walovits “Smoking Room,” Santi Amodeo’s “Astronauts,” Vicente Penarrocha’s “Body Confusion,” and Jesus Ponce’s “15 Days With You.” All are directorial debuts.

Rodriguez, Ponce and Amodeo hail from Andalusia. Rodriguez and Amodeo play soccer together on Mondays.

If anything else knits this latest group, it’s the grim industrial realities of Spanish filmmaking and the social preoccupations of Spain’s youngish intelligentsia.

Opera primas tripled in Spain from nine in 1994 to 26 in 1996 after new regs reserved pre-shoot subsidies for new helmers. But Spain’s commercial broadcasters now focus on financing mainstream fare. One workable alternative for producers is to ratchet down costs, work with (cheaper) younger directors and combine subsidies with select TV sales elsewhere.

“Maybe our only common denominator is that we’ve begun to make films with very little money. That means you have to get the screenplay right,” Rodriguez says.

But working with smaller budgets lessens commercial pressures, he adds.

The hallmark of Spain’s latest New Wave was largely its use (Medem, Alejandro Amenabar) or comic abuse (De la Iglesia, Santiago Segura) of genre.

Some successful debutants (David Carreras, Luis de la Madrid, Guillem Morales) still make chic chillers and psychodramas.

Many first-timers now turn to dramas, indulging a social conscience heightened by Jose Maria Aznar’s controversial support for war with Iraq.

“hese directors aren’t stylistically flashy. They’re concerned with more socially themed stories, not form,” says Fernando Garcillan.

He produced “15 Days,” which turns on a jailbird and junkie’s star-crossed romance. In “Seven Virgins,” a boy leaves a detention center for his brother’s wedding.

Set on a Paris-to-Lisbon train, “Sud Express” looks at the difference between economic and social Europe: “Politicians say one thing, reality’s different,” says de la Pena.

A Madrid-set ensemble piece, “Malas temporadas” has people seeking second chances, Martin Cuenca says.

With such films, Spanish cinema adds some glum to the glam of Almodovar.

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