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Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday.

She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” 1984 series “Teresa de Jesus”) and Carmen Frías (1993’s “La Lola se va a los puertos), and dedicated the prize to Spain’s Association of Women Cineasts and a very early version of herself: “a young girl from Cordoba born during the Civil War who did everything possible through thick and thin to break with the inertia which destined women to become housewives.”

But, having remembered Carmen Alborch and her “intellectual lucidity” and thanked Spanish Vice-president Carmen Calvo for her support of female filmmakers, the brunt of her speech –  applauded by Spain’s cultural establishment which packed out the Tabakalera’s main hall – was a salvo fired off at “the shameful, intentional refusal to normalize in society laws of equality approved in Parliament.”

That sense of society turning back history was already anticipated in her most ambitious film, “Esquilache,” written with Joaquín Orostrell and Molina’s faithful producer José Sámano. and the story of Italian Leopoldo de Gregorio, the Count of Esquilache, brought to Spain by Carlos III during the Enlightenment to modernize the country.

However enlightened, his reforms – a ban on long capes used to hide faces and weapons, for instance -spark riots. “The king and his ministers dream of a modern country. We will not permit a minority to threaten this dream,” Esquilache declares in a speech. Confronted by rebellion, orchestrated by a sacked former minister, however, Carlos III is forced to return Esquilache to Italy.

The first woman director to receive Spain’s National Cinematography Prize, Molina has always been a pioneer, director-writer Patricia Fereira said in an agile portrait delivered before Molina took to the stage.

She has tried her hand at multiple genres, Fereira added, including even erotic drama (“The Linden-Blossom Tea” in 1979’s “Cuentos eróticos”). Several constants stand out in her career, however.

One is her use of a literary base, whether in her “Vera un cuento cruel,” inspired by a story from French symbolist Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, or “La Lola se va a los puertos,” from a stage play written by Manuel and Antonio Machado, or “Esquilache,” adapting a play by Antonio Buero Vallejo.

Molina has always been an aesthete, Fereira argued, her framing carefully composed.

Another trait: The focus on the fate of female figures. Such is the subordination of Vera to the men in her life – her husband, and her manservant –  in “Vera, un cuento cruel,” that they are quite able to carry on life as if she were alive even after her premature death. their passion for her stronger than any sense of the reality of her existence.

“Funcion de Noche” (“Night Performance”), for many Molina’s most accomplished work, takes this reality/fiction interplay to another level.

Here, actress Lola Herrera receives a visit from her actor husband Daniel Dicenta, from whom she has recently filed for divorce. Dicenta tells her she is the best of all women he has ever known, to which she retorts that she has never had an orgasm during their marriage: She has been acting.

Much of the fascinating ambiguity of the film comes from the fact we never know how much Herrera and Dicenta are still acting in the documentary drama, even in what is supposed to be a truth session. Representation before others, as before the camera, becomes a mode of and barrier to communication.

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