El último beso con un abrazo roto: the Singapore grand premiere of Pedro Almodóvar’s Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

8 05 2010

The European Union Film Festival (EUFF) in Singapore kicked off on Thursday evening at Golden Village VivoCity to a full house, in which the audience was treated to a screening of a Pedro Almodóvar movie, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), motivated in part by the striking image of a couple embracing unnoticed by the human eye amidst the desolate volcanic landscape of a beach on the Canary Islands. Much of the movie is built around cinematic iconology, on which Almodóvar uses powerful iconic images and symbolism as a somewhat sombre story in related through the “eyes” of a blind writer, Mateo Blanco who goes by a pseudonym Harry Caine, masterfully depicted by Lluis Homar.

The movie revloves around the striking image of a couple embracing amidst the vastness of the volcanic landscape of Golfo Beach, unnoticed by the human eye, but captured by the camera.

Notwithstanding the Sangria that flowed at the reception before the late night screening at a time when I would usually have been in bed after a long working day, I needed little effort in keeping awake, enthralled by the images that came with each scene that Almodóvar skillfully delivers. I was struck by a poignant scene at the end of the movie in which Harry Caine realises that it was not in a tight embrace, as he had long imagined, but with a last kiss, the last kiss or el último beso with which the love of his life, the beautiful and soulful Lena, whom Penélope Cruz expertly portrays, parts with his company in the violence of a road collision that breaks the silence of the night. The last kiss has always been a powerful symbolic icon, one in which the parting of company is associated with, a farewell to what we have grown accustomed to, what we can sometimes be reluctant to leave behind. It at that moment of the last kiss that transforms the life of Mateo, losing not only his beloved Lena, but his sight, on which being a film director, he depends very much on. Mateo survives by transforming himself into Harry, and it is only after his realisation that it was with that last kiss with which he had parted with Lena, that he could live as Mateo once again.

Los Abrazos Rotos is the fourth film in which Penélope Cruz collaborates with Pedro Almodóvar.

The symbolism of the last kiss fortunately for fans of European films, does not extend to film festival itself. Far from saying goodbye, interest in the EUFF is definitely growing, as was observed by Mr. Kenneth Tan, the chairman of the Singapore Film Society, in his opening address. Now in its 20th year, this year’s EUFF sees an overwhelming response, packing the cinema hall with what Mr. Tan noted, its biggest ever crowd for an EUFF opening. This translates to the public screenings of the 16 other films as well, with strong demand that sees 80% of seats sold even before the first movie had been screened. On another note, Mr. Tan also mentions that the EUFF partners with the local film making industry and will provide opportunities for local filmmakers to showcase their works with screenings of short films made by them alongside some of the EUFF screenings. It is interesting to note that a young local filmmaker, Boo Junfeng, who is less than 30 years old, will make a debut at the Cannes Film Festival next week.

Cruz gives a striking performance as she goes through a range of moods of the various scenes.

A full synopsis of Los Abrazos Rotos, which also features Blanca Portillo as Mateo’s long suffering agent Judit, José Luis Gómez as the brutally jealous Ernesto Martel who Lena is a mistress of, and Rubén Ochandiano as Judit’s son Diego, can be found at the EUFF website. Do look out for Los Abrazos Rotos as it would be released to local cinemas from 13 May 2010.

Photographs of Mateo and Lena embracing broken into thousands of pieces. Powerful images are used in a film that revolves around many symbolic images.


A preview of the 20th European Union Film Festival (6 to 16 May 2010)

2 05 2010

The 20th European Union Film Festival (EUFF) caught my attention with an invitation to a bloggers’ preview at the Spanish Embassy, during which a Sam Garbarski movie, Irina Palm, as screened. The tragicomedy which made its debut at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival,  although directed by the Francophone Garbarski who hails from Belgium, comes into the festival as a Luxembourg entry and is in English and filmed entirely in an English setting, having been co-produced by Belgium, Luxembourg, Britain, Germany and France. The movie revolves around the main character, Maggie, a self described frumpy middle-aged grandmother played by Marianne Faithfull, who, by the circumstances surrounding her, is driven to accepting a job in one of the sleazy joints that London’s Soho district is known for. Marianne Faithfull gives a splendidly touching performance as Maggie in this heartwarming story in which Maggie’s grandson, Olly (Corey Burke), requires life saving treatment in Australia. Olly’s parents, Maggie’s son Tom (Kevin Bishop) and daughter-in-law, Sarah (Siobhán Hewlett) have no means of paying for the passage to Australia. Maggie desperately seeks a way to raise the required sum, and is unsuccessful in her attempts to persuade the banks to lend her the required amount. This does not stop her and she stumbles to Sexy World, a private club in Soho, where she sees a “Hostess Wanted” sign outside the door. In her desperation, Maggie naively walks through the door to discover that “Hostess”, as explained by club owner Miki (Miki Manojlovic), is a euphemism for “Whore”. Accepting a position offered, she eventually finds success as Irina Palm, eventually being able to raise the required sum.

Marianne Faithfull gives a splendid performance as Maggie a.k.a. Irina Palm for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Award at the European Film Awards in 2007.

Irina Palm is one of the delightful movies being lined up for the EUFF, which returns for its 20th year, and follows on its sell-out success last year. The festival aims to bring to local audiences a visual odyssey through the rich and diverse cultures of the European Union through 17 critically acclaimed films that have won awards and nominations in prestigious festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, and even includes an Oscar nominee.

The 20th EUFF is on at GV VivoCity from 6 to 16 May.

The EUFF also sees the EU encouraging cinematic exchange and fostering closer cultural exchange between Europe and Singapore, and will this year see the partnership of  Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies (in screening some of its students’ best short films before the start of selected feature films) providing promising young filmmakers with an opportunity to see their works on the big screen alongside those of acclaimed directors, while offering the local audiences a glimpse of some of the young cinematic talents in Singapore.

The Programme for the 20th EUFF. 17 European films will be screened over 11 days.

Highlights of the festival include the opening film and gala premiere of Broken Embraces (Spain) by famed director Pedro Almodóvar, starring Penelope Cruz (one week ahead of its commercial launch); The Father of my Children (France), winner of a Special Jury Award at Cannes Film Festival in 2009; Unmade Beds (UK) – nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival; and The Secret of Kells (Ireland), an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film in 2010. The Festival will be officially opened on 6 May 2010 at Golden Village VivoCity by Guest-of-Honour Mr Sam Tan, Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Communications and the Arts, and will run until at Golden Village VivoCity until 16 May 2010. More information on the EUFF and a synopsis of each of the films can be found at its website www.euff.sgTickets go on sale from 22 April 2010.

About the EUFF:

The European Union Film Festival is an annual event that showcases a collection of films which draws on the diverse and rich culture of Europe. The film festival, now in its twentieth year, is a window into the intriguing world of European cinema. The films showcased in this festival may belong to a specific country, but they are all representative of Europe’s common cultural heritage. The richness of Europe’s culture is world renowned. Language, literature, performing arts, visual arts, architecture, crafts, broadcasting and of course, cinema all celebrates Europe’s cultural diversity and history.