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Tribute 2019: Jaime Rosales

Photo: Jaime Rosales © Filmfactory

I make films to discover myself. I do not consider myself to be a particularly good director. I am like Sisyphus. I try to reach the mountain peak, but always start anew. This way every film gives me the opportunity to explore cinematographic language … Even though my films are very personal and deal with topics that I am interested in, they are made to be seen. The audience is not my friend, in a way it is my enemy that does not forgive me if I make something that it does not like, after all the people have sacrificed some of their time and spent money to see the film.
Jaime Rosales, press conference Thessaloniki Int. Film Festival, November 2018

This year the CROSSING EUROPE Tribute section is dedicated to the award winning director and screen writer Jaime Rosales from Catalonia (Spain). During the festival we will show all of his previous feature films – six all together – which will all be attended by the director, who will also hold a Masterclass in Linz. His newest work, PETRA, which had its world premiere at Cannes, will be shown for the first time in Austria in Linz.

Jaime Rosales was born in 1970 in Barcelona and studied at the prestigious San Antonio de los Baños International Film and Television School (EICTV) in Cuba. After that, he went to Australia, where he continued his studies at the Australian Film Television and Radio School Broadcasting Entertainment (AFTRSBE). He then returned to Europe and began to work for television as a screen writer and founded his own production company Fresdeval Films in 2001.

Already his first feature film (LAS HORAS DEL DÍA) was highly successful internationally and had its world premiere – as with four other of his films – at the international film festival in Cannes. He has become one of the most important voices in Spanish contemporary cinema, and seems to re-invent himself in every one of his films. No film is like the last, and yet every one of his six feature films bares his artistic handwriting. What is particularly impressive is his joy of experimentation as well as the consistency with which Rosales realizes his cinematographic vision every time. Sometimes he experiments with technical “gimmicks” (e.g. the use of split-screens in LA SOLEDAD, or what was still considered to be new media at the time, e.g. Skype in HERMOSA JUVENTUD), other times, the stringent camera work leaves a lasting impression. Think of the terror-drama TIRO EN LA CABEZA, where the camera is never close to the action, but rather watches everything from afar, much like in a nature documentary (Rosales himself made this comparison in an interview).

It also becomes apparent in his current production PETRA that the excessive use of pans with the steady cam was chosen explicitly as a stylistic device. Rosales works both with professional actors as well as with amateurs. Sometimes he does entirely without dialogue, sometimes language is an integral part in his work.
His films are shaped by a keen sense of observation and an instinct for social disturbances, be it the murderer “next door” (LAS HORAS DEL DÍA), the missing perspectives of the younger generation in Spain (HERMOSA JUVENTUD), the social structures in a family as a multilayered micro cosmos (SUEÑO Y SILENCIO), the bombings in Madrid (LA SOLEDAD), or the ETA terror (TIRO EN LA CABEZA).

His works are also defined by an infallible sense of atmosphere that cleverly draws the audience into the stories, and makes people deal with topics that they would rather not think about. Being overt a stylist, Jaime Rosales is always interested in exploring boundaries when telling stories on the silver screen.

// The Tribute 2019 is carried out in collaboration with the Institut Ramon Llull. //

Weak Killers, Strong Women

Maya McKechneayfilm critic, filmmaker, author
Fate is a pinpoint marksman, at least in Jamie Rosales’s work. If it spots a weakness anywhere, it takes aim and – boom – all hope is lost. Even without, his characters do not have easy lives. Most of the director’s films take place during the economic crisis that hit the socially vulnerable in the peripheries of Spanish cit-ies particularly hard.

Like Natalia, the gorgeous protagonist in Beautiful Youth (2014). The young woman tries to do everything right. In the tight apartment that she shares with her single mother and her unruly brother, she tries to mediate, tries to earn some extra money. Yet she cannot find a job. And so fate takes a swing. Natalia’s boyfriend, a dreamer and occasional construction worker, who also still lives with his mother, gets her pregnant.

“If someone were to tell women how hard it is, they would stop having children and the human race would perish,” says Natalia’s mother – before she begins to make preparations to feed another mouth. Beautiful Youth is a film about female solidarity and the deficiencies of men, who, incapable of taking responsibility, rather talk porn, video games, and soccer.

Taking a look at gender is something of a common theme in the works of 49-year-old Rosales: on the one side you have strong women who fight for truth and for doing justice to their own emotions – or simply to survive financially. On the other you have men who cannot find a way to get in touch with their own emotions, leaping at any shady opportunity instead.

Like Abel (Àlex Brendemühl), the torn hero in Rosales’s debut film The Hours of the Day, which marked the Linz debut for the director in the competition section of Crossing Europe 2004. Abel appears to be a docile, quiet owner of a boutique without any particular attributes. “Look at you, nothing excites you!” his girlfriend Tere complains just before she leaves him for good. Yet Tere is wrong, Abel does have a passion: he loves to strangle people. The audience sees what Abel’s mother, his colleague, and his (ex-)girlfriend do not suspect: how he lures a taxi driver into the swamps. How he quietly sneaks after an old man, into the subway toilets. He chooses his victims at random, as he is less interested in life than in the act of killing.

Already in this debut you can find the camera peeking from the outside into a room, which has since become a trademark perspective for Rosales. The dialogue scenes, filmed in long takes, make the viewer feel as if standing outside an apartment window, looking through the kitchen into the dining room behind it. Yet this point of view that remains static and does not breathe does not contain anything voyeuristic, but rather underlines the randomness of the selection: we observe this family. But it might as well be the family one floor up, or in the next house. The issues that Rosales deals with – fear of poverty, letting go in old age, painful love and sudden death – affect us all, as does the financial crisis.

Maybe Rosales’s “casual” and seemingly detached approach is influenced by Robert Bresson, who was less interested in the individual as in “models” as representatives for society. Rosales’s six films are similar in that they take a hard look at the characters without becoming overly psychological, and yet they all experiment with a different form.

Rosales’s most radical experiment in style is his anti-thriller Bullet in the Head: here the observing, distanced point of view described above grows into a telephoto-like distance. At one point the traffic breezes past in between the camera and the “hero” of the film, a middle-aged man who you see through the window of a bar and whose conversation is seen but not heard as the sound also stays on the other side of the street. This film has the characteristics of a stake-out – and indeed it does turn out that the protagonist is under police surveillance. He has a plan, the same way the film has a plot, yet it demands patience from the audience to realize both.

Solitary Fragments, the work that Rosales presented in Cannes before Bullet in the Head, takes off comparatively harmoniously and much more on the narrative side: this everyday life drama emphasizes the loneliness of its characters by capturing them in split screens. One of them is Adela, a single mother raising her son in the countryside. The father keeps hitting her up for money instead of paying alimony. Eventually the mother packs her bags and heads to Madrid with her child to make a fresh start. She moves into an apartment with Ines, whose family background is told in a parallel plot. Just as the two women join forces, fate strikes.

Like children do in the puppet theater, Rosales’s dark script twists make you want to warn the characters by shouting “Watch out for the crocodile!” But maybe all these hardships are necessary, as Rosales’s characters only reveal their true colors in crisis. Like Petra, who becomes the titular hero of a great tragedy presented at Cannes in 2018. Without giving too much away: Petra is something of a female version of the tale of Oedipus, with its heroine having to suffer many trials. Yet in the end, by performing an act of humanity, she triumphs over fate – or more precisely over the suffering brought on to her by men.

Which leaves the subjectively most beauti-ful work of the tribute: The Dream and the Silence (2012). The only film of the tribute that was shot outside of Spain – in Paris – tells of a couple, a teacher and an architect, who lose one of their daughters in a car accident. After the crash, a concussion and trauma eradicate the father’s memory of the dead child, he continues on with his life as if nothing had happened, leaving his wife alone with the pain. Here the film drifts into the fantastic and gives us a supernaturally beautiful single long shot of many minutes celebrating a reunion of the mother and both daughters. Maybe – see its title! – this is but a dream of a woman who can no longer stand her husband’s silence. Maybe this is the doing of good spirits, who knows. A magical shield is exactly what you would wish for, for Rosales’s characters – to fight off and throw back fate’s bullets, and maybe just be happy once in a while.