'Suffer,' 'Eden' standouts at Spanish festival

VALENCIA, Spain — Miguel Albaladejo’s corrosive comedy “Born to Suffer” and Costa Gavra’s immigration tale “Eden Is West” proved early highlights at a re-booted 30th Valencia Mostra, in its first year under director Salomon Castiel.

Otherwise, fest’s first few days belonged to the great Spanish director Luis Garcia Berlanga: His films — screened in a retro, his fervent fans, which include most jobbing Spanish cineastes, and a smile-inducing docu and book.

A near-comedic immigration thriller, with Riccardo Scamarcio as a buff but illegal immigrant constantly on the run from Italian then French authorities unless he manages to look rich — one of the film’s multiple ironies — “Eden” proved the strongest competition entry over Valencia’s first weekend.

Singular and valiant, toplining a near exclusive femme cast and nobody under 40, out-of-competition “Suffer,” which opened the Mostra, nailed the monstrousness of a 73-year-old spinster who exploits the large heart and huge work capacity of her slow-on-the-uptake maid.

A latent single-sex love story, in which the mistress meets, loses and regains her slave, the power-play of the manipulative mother-figure struck a chord in the Valencia gala audience.

A strong opener was just one sign that Castiel has pulled the Valencia’s Mostra together, placing it once more on Spain’s national radar.

Castiel has done so in only four months and on an exiguous Euros 1 million ($1.5 million) budget. Part of the rally has come from playing to the strengths of the Valencia region.

Fest opener “Suffer” was shot at the nearby Ciudad de la Luz studios. The Mostra includes a panorama of Ciudad-shot movies. The first weekend’s undoubted highlight was a tribute to the Valencia-born Luis Garcia Berlanga, one of the greatest filmmakers that Spain has produced (“Welcome Mr Marshall,” “The Executioner,” “Life Size”).

A feature-length tribute, “Por la gracia de Luis” (By the Grace of Luis) world-preemed Saturday.

A labor of love, “Luis” is ingeniously structured so that its mockumentary story — a rookie director’s doomed attempt to reproduce Berlanga’s signature snaking sequence shot — illustrates further Berlanga hallmarks: how individuals are swept along by a tide of collective chaos, and their stories are chronicles of failure.

Produced by Roberto Oltra, and directed by Jose Luis Garcia Sanchez, one of Berlanga’s clearest disciples, “Luis” played to a warm reception from those who caught it at a very late Saturday night gala.

Also Saturday, Spanish critic Luis Alegre presented “Via Berlanga!” a collection of essays by Berlangaphiles. Contributions by some of Spain’s most successful young directors — Santiago Segura (the “Torrente” saga), David Trueba (“Welcome Home”) and Borja Cobeaga (“The Friend Zone”) suggest that Berlanga’s influence still runs deep in Spanish filmmaking.

Fest’s main competition, dedicated to Mediterranean-rim countries, looks inevitably eclectic, but nevertheless well-chosen.

A playful French farce, a distant descendant of Georges Feydeau with nods towards Woody Allen and Jacques Tati, Emanuelle Moret’s “Please, Please Me” raised laughs at a Saturday press screening.

Competition lineup includes name auteurs, such as Francesca Archibugi (“A Question of the Heart”) and Egypt’s Marwan Hamed (“Ibrahim The White”), plus films that have largely slipped under the radar (Cecile Telerman’s “Blame it on Mum,” and Igaal Niddam’s “Brothers”).

Other titles deserve wider notice: Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s “Ajami”; Christos Georgiou’s “Small Crime” and Damjan Kozole’s “Slovenian Girl.”

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