This curiosity is a reasonably well-produced DVD of three short films from the early career of Spaniard Carlos Atanes, director of sci-fi feature films PROXIMA and FAQ.
First we get 1995's METAMINDS AND METABODIES.
Essentially a peek into Hell's waiting room, the action focuses on a seedy bar and a drunk who sits at the bar listening to the barman's stories in-between drinking and vomiting.
On a stage in the bar, a religious play is being enacted for the benefit of a small, all-male audience. They seem bored with the performance, until the female lead - Jesusita - shoots her partner in the face.
However, the barman insists that Jesusita be taken round the back and flayed as punishment for killing her partner. Meanwhile, the drunk continues to drink, waiting on someone he's arranged to meet to arrive ...
If you can't tell from its title, METAMINDS is a very pretentious affair. From it's opening scene of a naked Jesusita singing a Spanish folk song on stage, to the drug-fuelled sex scene shot under green-tainted lamps, this is art student heaven ... ostentatious, self-important, naive and ultimately not half as clever as it thinks it is.
Still, there's no denying the final five minutes possess a ferocious power, offering some of the most misanthropic footage I've seen in a long time.
For the most part, in terms of mixing it's grindhouse content with cut-rate arthouse aesthetics (it's shot on video), it's safe to say you should imagine CAFE FLESH as directed by Dusan Makavejev.
MORFING, from 1996, follows. This finds young actress Diana talking to Atanes (as himself) in a bar, explaining how excited she is to have landed a role in his latest film.
But Atanes tries to hang himself when he can't get funding for the film. Diana saves him, and together they visit an old acquaintance of his to see if he can help. Rather, the gurning middle-aged idiot shovels them through a hole in his office wall.
The hole takes Atanes and Diana down a long dark tunnel and ultimately underground on to the set of Atanes' latest film. Much sexual and violent madness ensues: art students writhing around naked and covered in various fluids for the sake of the cameras.
What's it all about? Fuck knows. But, again, it reeks of arrogance, only mildly tempered by odd flourishes of humour and some gleefully offensive content.
Finally, we get to 1999's WELCOME TO SPAIN. This was apparently banned from 30 film festivals, though I can't really see why. Because it's tedious, perhaps?
The film concerns a young man who arrives back in Spain after an unspecified amount of time away, and is immediately greeted by his father. The only problem being, his father is dead.
During the drive home, the father explains to his son that he has crossed "oceans of time" to be with him. Back at the father's house, he continues to talk a lot of metaphysical codswallop while the son rests, bathes, looks in the mirror (there's lots of footage of mirrors throughout all three programmes - obviously very 'significant'), has hallucinations, does a bit of soul-searching etc.
It's all a little hard to bear. Despite being the best lit and photographed of the three films, WELCOME struggles under the weight of it's own metaphor. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of good surrealism - but this is more like "wanky philosophy student makes 'important' project" guff.
Still, if you're prepared to stick around, Atanes does admittedly have a knack for illiciting some stunning visuals occasionally from his micro-budgets, and his films do build slowly towards some startlingly violent imagery. WELCOME is no different in this respect.
Each film displays competent camera work and editing, while the lighting and homemade art decor do their best in each case to transcend the shot-on-video look. If anything, the enthusiastic but risible acting throughout is Atanes' biggest enemy. Well, that and his penchant for pretentiousness.
All films are presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1. As they're shot on video, the transfers are very much a mixed bag. METAMINDS is generally soft and overly dark, while the other two are bright and sharp affairs. In each case, there is minimal grain or pixelation.
The Spanish mono audio that runs throughout the films is consistent and problem-free. The forced English subtitles, however, are pretty bad. Curiously, the dodgy translation kind of added to the sense that I'd just stepped into some demented alternative world!
An animated main menu allows us to access each film separately. There are no chapter options, but as MORFING is the longest film at 28 minutes in length, it's hardly a problem.
Extras are limited to an optional video introduction to the disc from actress Arantxa Pena (who, after speaking in Italian with forced English subtitles for a minute-and-a-half, downs a glass of milk in the director's honour - watch this disc to see the relevance!) and trailers for his films PROXIMA and FAQ. Both trailers are presented in Italian audio with no subtitles.
Finally, there's a 50-second advert for a book on Atanes, "Los trabajos del director".
You can find out more about this DVD, Atanes' other work, the book, and Pena, at www.carlosatanes.com.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by www.carlosatanes.com|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|