Tag Archives: Spain

El Alma de Las Moscas (The Soul of Flies) | review

The promising debut film of independent filmmaker Jonathan Cenzual Burley, El Alma de Las Moscas (The Soul of Flies), is a low-key magical realist meditation in buddy-film form. The two protagonists, Nero (Andrea Calabrese) and Miguel (Javier Sáez), are brothers meeting for the first time after decades, summoned to their absent father’s funeral by posthumous letters. They meet at a train station that happens to be abandoned – presumably by their deceased dad’s design – and are forced to come to terms with each other as they meander through the grain fields in Salamanca (western Spain) towards the funeral. If you appreciate Beckett’s Waiting for Godot but wish it were a bit more accessible and less tragic, this would be right up your alley.

Crucially for the film’s dramatic trajectory, Nero and Miguel provide effective foil for one another; Nero is an ebullient optimist while Miguel is a brooding cynic. Their dynamic drives the film forward and gives the film a sense of purpose. Because there are few close-ups on either – the film is dominated by medium and long shots of the pair against the landscape – their clothing choices are key for convincingly defining their characters. It’s fitting that Nero looks comfortable in the countryside, wearing earth-tones and a humble flat cap, while Miguel looks incongruous in a slick black-and-white suit.

The film has a third protagonist: the countryside. Given voice by a rustic, rhythmic soundtrack, it’s a strong character of the film as well. The expanses of dry grain fields are described by the narrator as containing a “labyrinth of memories”, a silent witness of the life their father lived. The countryside looks great on film; Burley’s minimalist aesthetic utilises striking, saturated colours and naturalistic light so it looks painterly and timeless.

The writer/director said in a recent interview that he shot this film in three weeks with a tiny cast and crew and a very limited budget, so it’s really intended as a calling card. Burley’s message is: ‘This is what I can do with no money; now give me some.’ And the results are encouraging. While El Alma de las Moscas is understated and minimalist, it has a clear vision and thoughtfully uses film language. For example, when the two brothers are wandering around, their journey moves right to left across the screen, enhancing that their journey is not about forward movement. When they finally start traveling the right way towards the funeral, their path is tracked left to right so a conclusion feels inevitable.

El Alma de las Moscas seems to be billed as a comedy, but that’s a bit misleading, as it doesn’t quite fit into that box. Two strangers wander around the countryside, meeting some quirky characters along the way, and ruminate about the nature of family, loneliness, fate and mortality. This film isn’t often laugh-out-loud funny, but it does deal with deep subject matter in a light-hearted way. So if you’re in the mood for that, check it out.

The Soul of Flies is out now on DVD, released by Matchbox Films (RRP.  £15.99) | Buy the film at amazon.co.uk.  

Killing me softly without his words: The problem with dubbing

"Si Señor...!" - Nicolas Cage gets the dubbing treatment in Bangkok Dangerous

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. Currently living in Spain, you can find out more about his language learning pursuits at myspanishadventure.com.

If you’d asked me a few months ago what I found to be the single most offensive thing about film, I really wouldn’t have been able to tell you. My interest was only ever a passive one. However, now that I find myself in Spain in a wild attempt to learn the language, get under the skin of the culture and finally reveal just what it is exactly that can be found lying beneath that aging mask of Zorro, my apathetic opinion of the past is being challenged by a particular vagary of foreign viewing. That’s right: dubbing. In the absence of one single, universal language, I have had to learn to cope with this aural game of smoke and mirrors.

It all began one evening when I settled down in front of my Spanish apartment’s fuzzy Sony mini-TV and switched on Bangkok Dangerous in the hope of drowning out the tunes pumping out of the gay bar from the street below. The jet-black mullet of the balding Nicolas Cage hoved into view, his bovine eyes narrowed, and his lips opened. And then… what the hell was that?!  Cage’s mannered, trademark bark had been replaced by the disarming tones of an effete, lisping Spaniard.

If it’s bad in the case of a two-bob action film, it’s worse with the classics. Two nights ago I tried to watch Rocky, a film so popular here that the iconic image of the first film can be spotted on the T-shirt of at least one passing Spaniard per day. Given my experience of watching it here, and the dubbing massacre that ensued, I doubt if any of the film’s fans would be able to recognise the actual voice of star Sylvester Stallone. Not that they would care (ignorance is bliss after all) yet, for someone like me, a long time fan of the movie, watching it without hearing the infamous drawl of the down-and-out Philly southpaw was a rather painful experience. If the television programming body or the Spanish Film Commission did away with the process of dubbing, at least I’d have the option of hearing how ridiculous Stallone’s voice really is, instead of the finely clipped Spanish-voice actor kicking back with a far-too-casual “Adddrrrriiiiiaaaaannnnn” before launching full pelt into a 100mph delivery of inaudible dialogue.

The same thing happened with Pulp Fiction, which I was only able to watch for half an hour before the impact of the film became so lessened by the act of dubbing. It’s strange to think how suddenly a good film can become, despite being cinematically arresting, unwatchable, when the voices of characters fail to match the actions on screen. Unlike subtitles, dubbing has a distancing effect which often fatally disrupts the internal logic a film tries so hard to achieve to get you to believe in what you’re watching.

The problem with dubbing and its impact on the portrayal of character extends to dialogue in film too, in particular cursing which, for me, can lift any stale drama or action feature and is especially warranted out here in Extremadura where I haven’t heard a public “shit”, “fuck” or “cunt” in a month. The Spanish way of cursing, when applied to the dubbing of foreign films, leaves me unsatisfied. How can the Spanish “agillipollao”, for example, represent “asshole”, “cocksucker” and “motherfucker” all at once? This lack of diversity, or rather lack of creativity in translation, is robbing me of one of my greatest joys in film, namely the ability to seek solace in nasty language.

Language, for me, is what it’s all about. I never used to mind dubbing before I became a language student. I used to find the whole process of replacing another actor’s voice with a foreign equivalent largely comical. It was something mainly reserved for holiday hotel rooms, where’d you get in from a day of battling Germans for sunbeds to switching on the TV and watching, for a few minutes at least, The Last Action Hero, before eventually finding something better to do. Or, as I’d like to more accurately point out, school trips to Western Europe where you and your mates would joyously stumbe upon the local porn channel to find a big-titted American blonde overdubbed with the grinding (if you’ll excuse the pun) accent of a French native. Back then, in circumstances of youth and folly,  dubbing was inherently innocent and forgivably foreign. It would never deprive you and your monolingual mates of taking it in turns to stand about in the lavatory while the other gets prime viewing in front of the foreign cable box, tissue-paper clasped firmly in hand.

Now that I’m possession of a foreign language, and I’m that much more grown up, dubbing is a nuisance. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day after listening to my Spanish Rasta housemate harp on about Frisbee and “hierba” for hours, is watch what I know is a half-decent film, spoiled by the shortcomings of more incomprehensible foreign gibberish.

Can’t I just have the original again please? I’m tired of all this.

P.S. It’s not all bad. Check out this video for some improvisatory dubbing gold. If only dubbing was always this creative.