Monday, February 23, 2015

La ocasión (1978)

While José Ramón Larraz may be best remembered for his early British films which consisted of horror/thrillers like Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971), Scream and Die (1973), Symptoms (1974) and culminating with Vampyres (1974), Larraz’s Spanish period upon his return to Spain following the death of dictator Francisco Franco really showcased Larraz’s versatility as a director resulting in numerous films in a variety of genres and subgenres. Larraz gained a reputation in Spain for comedies such as Give Us Our Daily Sex (1979) which starred Laura Gemser, La momia nacional (The National Mummy, 1981) and Polvos mágicos (1983) which were quite successful but before that Larraz directed the marital drama El mirón (The Voyeur, 1977), the bizarre The Coming of Sin (1978) which is perhaps the best known film from this period, the spy film The Golden Lady (1979), and the erotic drama Madame Olga’s Pupils (1981). Of course Larraz never forgot about horror and films like La muerte incierta (1977) and Stigma (1980) proved just how valuable Larraz was to the genre along with the notorious satanic sexploitation classic Black Candles (1982). There were others that also proved Larraz could do it all but anyone who’s seen a handful of Larraz’s films can attest too, Larraz felt most at home with thrillers so it should come as no surprise that 1978’s La ocasión is one of the strongest films from Larraz’s Spanish period.

Husband and wife Pablo and Anna return to their beachfront home only to find it trashed after having been broken into. Pablo immediately suspects a group of young hippies that have been staying at the farm next door and is determined to get rid of them while Anna, who isn’t exactly trilled with the group also doesn’t approve of Pablo’s overly antagonistic attitude. Pablo becomes increasingly more annoyed with the group and their antics eventually reporting them to the police in hopes of finally being rid of them for good, that is until the leader of the group decides to pay him and Anna a visit.

Following films like the surreal and superstitious La muerte incierta and The Coming of Sin, La ocasión (The Occasion) really finds Larraz in his element. The film is very much in the vein of his early British films complete with shady characters, isolated locations and ambiguity, although there is an apparent lack of atmosphere which Larraz’s British films contained in abundance but in all fairness to the film this particular story doesn’t necessarily call for heavy atmospherics and what it lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for in sheer moodiness. Larraz was always a slow story teller and La ocasión is certainly one of his more languid pieces. As always nothing is ever obvious in Larraz’s world and La ocasión is an interesting watch in that for the majority of the film there is never really any clear indication of where the film is heading. While Pablo’s issues with the hippies are obviously at the forefront, Larraz spends an equal, if not more amount of time examining Pablo and Anna’s marriage and Anna’s hints of sexual frustration as well as her slightly conflicted feelings regarding the hippies. By the time the film reaches its third act and becomes a three character piece Larraz finds a way to brilliantly blend every single plot point previously explored leading to some quintessential Larraz intensity and the direction Larraz eventually takes the film results in some fairly twisted sexual ambiguity in regards to Anna’s state of mind which Larraz wisely leaves a slightly unsettling mystery.

La ocasión has proven to be one of Larraz’s most elusive films. Hardly anything has been written about it save for one dismissive review on IMDb and its home video history seems to be a bit of a mystery as well. A quick image search will turn up a clamshell VHS cover for the film that was being sold on a Spanish auction site. The tape was released by one Constan Films, S.A. which also happened to be the films production company, yet its also been said that the film never received a VHS release, that the only available version of the film is sourced from a VHS recording of a Spanish television airing of the film. Interesting to say the least. Image searches will also reveal other items related to the film that were sold on the same auction site as that VHS tape such as the films poster, several sets of lobby cards and a press book. Over the past year or so the film did finally begin to pop up on several torrent sites but for those that still prefer to watch films the proper way there are discs out there for those that know where to look which are more than well worth seeking out and picking up as La ocasión is an intelligent and psychologically ambitious thriller and a film that’s easily recommendable to any serious Larraz fan.

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