Monday, August 21, 2017

Jealousy (1999)

One of the attributes of a true auteur is the ability to continually explore similar subject matter with each new film looking at it from a different angle and never having one film come across as a rehash of another. Vicente Aranda was one such auteur who fit that description. Although Aranda already had a number of favorite topics, most notably those of a sociopolitical nature, one of the most interesting things regarding Aranda’s career is his discovering of perhaps his favorite, and certainly most successful from a strictly economic standpoint, muse 27 years into his directorial career. Despite the sometimes dubious nature of Wikipedia, Aranda’s entry sums it up in a nutshell with “Love as uncontrollable passion, eroticism and cruelty are constant themes in his filmography. The frank examination of sexuality is one of the trademarks of his work, as seen in his most internationally successful film Amantes (1991).” Amantes was the start of a string of erotically charged psychodramas and thrillers which included the likes of Intruso (1993), The Turkish Passion (1994) and The Naked Eye (1998), all of which put under a microscope just how fragile humans truly are when it comes to sex, romantic relationships (specifically relationships that develop into love triangles) and especially jealously, the last of which gave Aranda’s 1999 film its name, yet another variation, and perhaps the most intense one yet, of Aranda’s favorite themes.

One month before his wedding, trucker Antonio discovers an old photograph of his fiancée Carmen with another mans arm wrapped around her shoulder which instantly triggers Antonio’s jealousy. When asked about the man in the photo, Carmen simply brushes it off, claiming he was an old friend and it was taken a long time ago. Antonio however isn’t satisfied and begins asking around, eventually discovering the name of the man, José. After the marriage, Carmen’s hopes of Antonio’s insistent pestering her about the photo are dashed when his obsession with José becomes not simply worse but all consuming. With Antonio’s envy at a fever pitch, Carmen is forced to admit the truth and confront a painful past she’d had hoped stayed buried with potentially fatal consequences.

In a way Jealousy (Celos) could be seen as the third film in a trilogy of sorts with Amantes and Intruso given that a third individual interrupts the (for all intensive purposes) happy lives of two, however the film plays out more like a spiritual sequel to The Turkish Passion, which dealt with female jealousy and the irrational behavior that can arise as a result. With Jealousy, Aranda reverses the sexes and the results are nothing short of mental. Like Aranda’s other films that follow a similar trajectory, Jealousy works on a variety of levels, be it a psychological drama or an erotic psych thriller. Out of all of Aranda’s similarly themed films, its Jealousy that takes the thriller route the most with the obvious reason being the increasingly irrational behavior of Antonio, but the film is far from one note in that regard with the film gradually turning into a mystery as the more Antonio asks around about José, the more questions arise about Carmen’s tainted past and the mystery of just who is José and what was the nature of he and Carmen’s relationship. Aranda slowly puts the pieces of Carmen’s past together and when more is revealed the film also becomes somewhat of a crime story, another element which places it alongside the likes of Amantes and The Turkish Passion. Aranda brilliantly brings everything to a boiling point leading up to an absolutely jaw-dropping, rain soaked finale that is almost Takashi Ishii-esque in its visceral, unexpected impact and visual design.

When Jealousy played the festival circuit some not very bright critics labeled the film misogynist with one particularly idiotic review from Time Out claiming the film portrayed women as “sex-obsessed primitivists”. Clearly whoever wrote that must have only been paying attention during the scenes where the two main women characters discuss sex as “primitive” is the last word that springs to mind when discussing the character of Carmen thanks to Aitana Sánchez-Gijón who gives an incredibly nuanced performance of a woman clearly eaten up with her own conflicted views of the combustible situation she suddenly finds herself in. As far as the cries of misogyny go, the last thing Aranda portrays the men in the film as is sympathetic, with Antonio’s behavior being downright psychotic and his fellow trucker friend Louis having jealousy issues of his own, stating at one point in the film how he’d like to lock Carmen’s friend Cinta away in a room so no other man would touch her. Aranda also wisely avoids any cliché “battle of the sexes” type of scenarios as well with Antonio clearly going far beyond the point of unreasonable and Carmen’s lack of honesty not helping matters. In Aranda’s view, nobody wins. Although it may have been hyper dramatized for the sake of film, the general idea that Aranda puts forth is far from unrealistic, ultimately making Jealousy one of his most frightening films.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Turkish Passion (1994)

John Carpenter was once quoted as saying “In France, I’m an auteur. In Germany, I’m a film-maker. In the UK, I’m a horror-director. In the US, I’m a bum.” Sadly its something that could have been said by a number of filmmakers. Its always interesting seeing how the work of certain directors is received internationally when compared to their home country and especially the US. Vicente Aranda is a particularly interesting case. One of the biggest names in Spanish cinema, Aranda stands out in that he was able to make films that were commercially successful, even winning several awards, while never compromising his personal artistry. The most famous example, Amantes (1991), which gave Aranda worldwide recognition, won the Goya Award for best picture and received multiple accolades at various festivals, yet in the States the film was regulated to select showings at specialty theaters. Aranda’s 1994 film The Turkish Passion is another film that was one of the most financially successful Spanish films of its release year but hypothetically speaking, had it gotten a release in America, chances are that its lurid plot may have sold tickets but it probably wouldn’t have been taken artistically seriously considering how dense most critics are. Hypothetics aside, what’s certain about The Turkish Passion is that its one of Aranda’s most psychologically fascinating and steamiest treatments on the all-consuming obsession the idea of love can lead to.

While vacationing in Istanbul, Desideria, a married but unfulfilled woman begins an intense affair with Yaman, her Turkish tour guide. Upon returning to Spain, Desideria discovers she is pregnant and there’s no question, the baby belongs to Yaman. Much to the chagrin of her husband, Desideria goes through with the pregnancy although the baby dies soon after birth. Feeling completely lost, Desideria makes the drastic decision to leave Spain and return to Yaman in Turkey. Not long after arriving back in Turkey, Desideria tracks down Yaman and the two rekindle their fiery romance and for a time, Desideria finally feels happy, that is until she discovers Yaman’s playboy ways and shady business practices. Furious at first, Desideria’s love for Yaman is too strong and she eventually resigns herself to fulfilling all his demands, that is until her jealousy of his other lovers gets the better of her.

Aranda’s most psychologically ambitious work at the time, The Turkish Passion (La pasión turca) is the logical successor to films like Amantes and Intruso (1993), seeing Aranda expand upon ideas found in both films and taking them into new, sordid territories. While jealousy clearly factored into the love triangles found in both Amantes and Intruso, ultimately it was one piece of a much larger puzzle. With The Turkish Passion, Aranda places it front and center while eschewing the love triangle aspect of the previous films, choosing instead to focus on the jealousy of one individual. The entirety of the film finds Aranda pondering the question of just how far would one go for love. The more the film moves forward however, the question changes and becomes how far would one degrade themselves under the false pretenses of love once it becomes clear just how far down the rabbit hole of obsession Desideria has fallen. This in turn allows Aranda to showcase his ability to seamlessly cross-pollinate genres, with the film being first and foremost a psychological study that gradually becomes somewhat of a thriller near the third act, which finds Desideria potentially in physical danger to go along with her increasing mental duress, adding an entirely new and at times uncomfortable dimension to the psychology of both the film and more importantly, Desideria herself. The film also tells an equally compelling story visually with Aranda brilliantly juxtaposing the naturally radiant and exotic beauty of Turkey with the increasingly darker moods of the film.

Antonio Gala's novel.

The film was based on a highly successful 1993 novel by Spanish writer Antonio Gala, a decision Aranda admitted was made in hopes of having another Amantes-esque hit after his previous two films The Bilingual Lover (1993) and Intruso weren’t quite as successful. The casting of singing star Ana Belén didn’t hurt either. Gala and Aranda butted heads almost immediately regarding the script. Aranda recalled in a 2006 interview “When Gala read the script he said that it was like a tree without leaves. That did stick to my mind, because to think that a telegram has leaves is asking for too much, and a film script is like that.” The two also vehemently disagreed on the ending of the film which was drastically different than the book with Aranda saying “I argued that what it seemed to me indispensable, as thesis of the film, was that passion can destroy but it cannot be denied, and my solution eventually prevailed. I filmed two different endings and after several screenings, the producer decided to leave the one I had proposed.” The Turkish Passion sticks out in Aranda’s filmograpgy as again, its yet another example of Aranda’s ability to make a commercially successful film while still retaining a transgressive edge and would prove to be a stepping stone for future films like The Naked Eye (1998) and Jealousy (1999). A crucial and essential Aranda title.