"The New Spanish Cinema and the Films of Carlos Saura" continues tonight at 8 at UCLA's Melnitz Hall with Saura's "Elisa, My Love" (1977) and his "Ana and the Wolves" (1972).
One of Saura's finest, "Elisa, My Love," is a kind of variation on Alain Resnais' "Providence" in which an ailing father (Fernando Rey, who is splendid) and his daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) have a reunion, which becomes an opportunity for Saura to explore the relationship between art and life and the ways in which imagination transforms memories.
Perhaps because "Ana and the Wolves" was made in response to the censorship problems surrounding Saura's 1970 "Garden of Delights," it suffers somewhat from a heavy-handedness born of an understandable frustration and anger. To an isolated mansion arrives a new governess (Chaplin), who's immediately thrust into a family of highly symbolic decayed aristocrats whose bizarre behavior becomes Saura's strongest commentary on the repressives of church, state and sex under Franco. Even if a bit ponderous, "Ana and the Wolves" is a courageous, beautifully acted and important Saura film; ironically, it is said that it escaped the censor because Franco himself considered it "nonsense."
Imanoel Uribe's "The Death of Mikel" (screening Friday at 8 p.m.) takes its time in allowing us to come to understand its handsome young hero (Imanoel Arias) living in a beautiful and ancient port town, the site of much strife and bloodshed due to Basque resistance to Spanish oppression.
The film begins with Mikel's elaborate funeral and cuts back to it as punctuation at the end of each key episode in Mikel's story. Uribe doesn't ask us to like this rather petulant and decidedly naive and self-absorbed young man, but we do come to respect him as he discovers the connection between political and sexual freedom when he at last realizes he's homosexual. Uribe's firm refusal to judge his people gives an admirable integrity to his film, a major box-office success in Spain in 1984.
Playing with "The Death of Mikel" is Antonio Gimenez Rico's "Dressed for Blue" (1983), an ingratiating documentary on six Madrid transvestites, whose struggle for survival become an implicit commentary on a macho culture.
All of them favor the Frederick's of Hollywood look; all of them, even those who are professional entertainers, are forced to work as prostitutes at least part time. What makes "Dressed for Blue" appealing is Rico's willingness to see each as an individual. Some refer to themselves as "she," some as "he," but most all are repelled by transsexual surgery.
Mario Camus' "The Beehive" (screening Saturday at 8 p.m.) is a surprising film from the director of "The Holy Innocents," one of the true masterpieces of the contemporary Spanish cinema. In contrast to the bitter satire of the earlier film, "The Beehive" is of all things an often sentimental recollection of how people behaved--sometimes heroic, sometimes less so but always human--in the dark aftermath of the Civil War. Adapted from Camilo Jose Cela's novel, "The Beehive" (1983) is an all-star production comprised of vignettes and is entirely enjoyable in a conventional way.
In an instance of saving the best for the last, Montxo Armendariz's "Tasio" (1984), which is the second feature Saturday, proves to be superb and strongly reminiscent of "The Tree of Wooden Clogs." Set in the rugged Urbasa mountains in the Basque region, it is a spare, detached study of the life of Tasio (Paxto Bisquert), a charcoal maker, from his youth to middle age, a man who makes ends meet by poaching, which may be dangerous but which also instills in him a proud defiance of his Spanish oppressors. "Tasio" is a quiet, intimate epic marked by subtlety, humor and its maker's understanding of the power of contemplation.
Also continuing at UCLA Melnitz (on Thursdays at 6 p.m.), the MGM silent series, which this week presents three with Greta Garbo, "The Torrent" (1926), "Flesh and the Devil" (1926) and "A Woman of Affairs" (1928). Phones: (213) 825-2581, 206-8013.