Thursday, January 15, 2015

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil – Jan. 30 to March 28 at TIFF Bell Lightbox

January 30 to March 28
TIFF Bell Lightbox

Like his cult-cinema contemporaries Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, Spanish maverick Álex de la Iglesia began his career as an anarchic purveyor of high-grade schlock splashing his every fluid-drenched fever dream across the screen, before achieving international recognition as a bona fide festival-feted auteur. The endorsement and mentorship of Pedro Almodóvar helped in this regard, immediately placing the former comic-book artist on the critical radar and garnering Goya Awards (Spain’s Oscars) for even some of his earliest and strangest work. While his work has grown in scope and ambition, de la Iglesia has never surrendered or compromised his unique vision: his films are as strange and transgressive as ever, his sense of humour every bit as dark, biting and absurd. In this sense, de la Iglesia shares much with Canada’s own purveyor of the peculiar and the perverse David Cronenberg: both filmmakers have forced the film world to adapt to them rather than the other way around.

Curated by TwitchFilm’s Todd Brown, this select retrospective of de la Iglesia’s twisted oeuvre offers Toronto audiences a crash course in one of the most bizarre, brilliant and singular cinematic talents working today. Featuring films starring Javier Bardem, Rosie PerezCarmen Maura, Santiago Segura, James Gandolfini and Elijah Wood, Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil runs from January 30 to March 28.

Iglesia turns his dark comedies a bittersweet pitch black, tempering drive-in-style blood, guts, and sex with melancholy reflections on human mortality. — Ed Halter, The Village Voice

Plenty of movies sympathize with outcasts, but only de la Iglesia’s sympathize with their ugliest feelings: envy, resentment, and self-loathing. — Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club

…de la Iglesia rarely sacrifices characterization for effect. No matter how weird his movies get, they’re always entirely sincere, which, in turn, makes them feel even weirder. ─ Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader

I’m a sad clown. I’m fairly pessimistic, closed in on my own world. I don’t listen to others. I try to make other people laugh, but I’m not funny. — Álex de la Iglesia

Full details and trailers below.

The Day of the Beast (El día de la Bestia)
Spain 1995 | 103 min. | 14A 35mm
Toronto International Film Festival 1995
The birth of the Antichrist is imminent, the End is nigh, and it looks like the world’s fate is well and truly sealed. But one simple Spanish priest believes he has the key to salvation: if he can commit enough sins to make the Devil believe that he is on the side of evil, he can learn where and when the Antichrist will be born and slay the hellspawn before it can destroy the world. With the aid of a death-metal enthusiast and the Italian host of a TV show on the occult, the well-intentioned priest puts on his worst behaviour to acquire the blood of a virgin, summon the Lord of Darkness, and save the world at the expense of his soul. Winner of six Goya Awards including Best Director, de la Iglesia’s gleefully anarchic and succulently sacrilicious sophomore feature secured his reputation as a formidable filmic force to be reckoned with.
Friday, January 30 at 9:30 p.m.

Dying of Laughter (Muertos de risa)
Spain 1999 | 113 min. | 14A 35mm
This jet-black comedy reunites de la Iglesia with Santiago Segura, whose performance as the metalhead demon hunter in The Day of the Beast launched him to fame. Segura and El Gran Wyoming (a popular Spanish TV personality) star as Nino and Bruno, a superstar 1970s comedy team whose mutual loathing increases along with their fame and success. After a series of acrimonious splits, the duo agrees to team up for a gala New Year’s Eve television special — but those long-lived tensions soon crest into full-on violence. A giddily nasty skewering of show business and cheesy Spanish variety shows, Dying of Laughter marked de la Iglesia and Segura’s last collaboration until The Last Circus over a decade later, as Segura set out to pursue his own career path as writer, director and star of the massively successful Torrente series of action-comedies.
Tuesday, February 3 at 9 p.m.

Perdita Durango
Spain 1997 | 126 min. | 18A 35mm
Toronto International Film Festival 1998
De la Iglesia made an ambitious bid for the English-speaking market with this balls-out adaptation of Barry Gifford’s 59° and Raining. A grim tale of mad love, hot cars and ultraviolence, the film stars Rosie Perez as the title heroine (previously played by Isabella Rossellini in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart), who hooks up with lusty, loose-screwed bank robber/witch doctor Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem, sporting another in his long line of bizarre haircuts) and joins him in his quest to sacrifice a pair of teen lovers to his dark gods; James Gandolfini co-stars as a determined DEA agent who pursues the passionate pair as they cut a bloody path down Mexico way. The film’s potent blend of outrageous humour with graphic sex and violence made the film too hot to handle for de la Iglesia’s American distributors — who cut it for content and sent it direct to video under the title Dance With the Devil — and it suffered further significant cuts in many territories around the globe. TIFF is delighted to present this film in its original, uncut Spanish release version.
Saturday, February 7 at 8:30 p.m.

The Oxford Murders
Spain/UK 2008 | 108 min. | 14A
De la Iglesia’s second foray into English-language filmmaking stars Elijah Wood as Martin, an American student at Oxford who becomes involved in a string of mysterious murders that seem to involve his academic idol, legendary mathematician Arthur Seldom (John Hurt). When Martin discovers that the crimes seem to be planned according to mathematical sequences, he races to stop the killer’s fatal, logical conclusion — but as the sardonic Seldom insists, even mathematics cannot always provide the answers one seeks. Adapted from the novel by Argentine mathematician and writer Guillermo Martínez, The Oxford Murders is de la Iglesia’s most marked departure from his signature style: a classy, elegantly constructed thriller that opts to play things straight rather than indulging the director’s taste for gruesome black comedy.
Sunday, February 8 at 9 p.m.

Common Wealth (La Comunidad)
Spain 1997 | 107 min. | 14A 35mm
De la Iglesia’s deliciously dark and macabre comedy of murders takes a setup akin to Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Danny Boyle’sShallow Grave and gives it a loopily absurdist twist. After moving into a new apartment, middle-aged real estate agent Julia (Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura) discovers a huge cache of cash that belonged to the recently deceased former tenant. Whereas the Raimi and Boyle films chronicled how their corrupt crews of conspirators gradually imploded due to greed, envy and ruthless self-interest, de la Iglesia flips the script: turns out that all of the building’s oddball tenants knew about the hidden hoard and were only waiting for its owner to die so that they could share it amongst themselves. When Julia tries to make off with the jackpot, her new neighbours band together to murderously reclaim their riches.
Sunday, February 21 at 9:30 p.m.

800 Bullets (800 balas)
Spain 2002 | 124 min. | 14A
Hard-living Julián (Sancho Gracia) is a former stunt man from the spaghetti western days who now ekes out a meagre living putting on Wild West stunt shows in a dilapidated studio backlot turned amusement park — and even this bare existence becomes threatened when his corporate-shark daughter (Carmen Maura) schemes to swipe the land and redevelop it as a swanky tourist resort. But when Julián’s hero-worshipping grandson Carlos runs away from home and joins the old man in his crumbling retreat, Julián and his fellow has-beens are inspired to strap on their prop gunbelts and take a stand for the old ways against the rapacious forces of progress. Shot on location in Almeria — the southeastern region of Spain that served as the backdrop for dozens of Italian-produced spaghetti westerns in the ’60s and ’70s — this gorgeously realized love letter to cinema is de la Iglesia’s sweetest film, even with the usual hefty helpings of nudity, foul language and over-the-top violence.
Thursday, February 26 at 9 p.m.

A Ferpect Crime (Crimen Ferpecto)
Spain 2004 | 106 min. | 14A 35mm
Rafael (Guillermo Toledo) is the top clerk in a major metropolitan department store, where he has his pick of the female staff and clientele and his eye on a plum promotion. But when the promotion goes to a hated rival — and when said rival ends up dead after a heated argument with Rafael — the smooth-talking salesman finds himself in something of an awkward position. And things get even more awkward when he realizes that the murder was witnessed by Lourdes (Mónica Cervera), an ugly-duckling clerk who is passionately in love with the definitely uninterested Rafael, and who is more than happy to use her compromising knowledge to her own advantage. This pitch-black comedy of errors — the deliberately misspelled Spanish title corrected by the distributor to The Perfect Crime — marks one of de la Iglesia’s biggest critical hits in North America.
Tuesday, March 3 at 9:15 p.m.

As Luck Would Have It (La Chispa de la Vida)
Spain 2004 | 106 min. | 14A
Working from a script by the screenwriter of Tango & Cash, de la Iglesia returned to the mode of Dying of Laughter for this dark satire of media madness and the lengths people will go to for fame. Roberto (Spanish comedian José Mota) is a washed-up ad exec on the verge of bankruptcy who suffers a freak accident that leaves him with an iron rod embedded in the back of his skull — which could kill him if he moves even one inch. While doctors try to figure out a way to free him and TV crews flock to the scene, Roberto capitalizes on his lucky break by acquiring an agent and whipping up a bidding war for exclusive interview rights. Reminiscent of Billy Wilder’s corrosive Ace in the Hole, the film is bolstered by Salma Hayek’s strong performance as Roberto’s loyal wife who tries to cope with the madness that her debilitated husband all too willingly surrenders to.
Sunday, March 14 at 8:45 p.m.

Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)
Spain/France 2013 | 110 min. | 14A
Toronto International Film Festival 2013
Marking de la Iglesia’s return to his horror-comedy roots following the genre-bending The Last Circus, Witching & Bitching begins with a bizarre jewellery heist pulled off by stickup men dressed as iconic pop-culture characters and led by a silver-skinned Jesus. Escaping into the impenetrable forests of the Basque countryside, the hapless hoods land smack-dab in a bloodthirsty coven of witches who subject the macho misogynists to a night of terror that both grotesquely literalizes and brutally punishes their Neanderthal woman-hatred. Carolina Bang (The Last Circus) makes another memorable impression as the coven’s youngest member, an amorous, leather-clad, motorcycle-riding punk-rock vixen with a penchant for toad juice.
Saturday, March 21 at 9 p.m.

The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta)
Spain 2010 | 107 min. | 18A
Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival 2010
Opening with a dazzling title sequence that matches classic horror-movie villains with some of the 20th century’s all-too-real monsters, de la Iglesia’s gonzo allegory is both his wildest and most wildly ambitious feature to date. The prologue is set in 1937 — where an itinerant circus’s Sad Clown (Santiago Segura) wreaks havoc on Franco’s Nationalist army with a machete before being wounded and captured — the film then skips ahead to 1973, where the Clown’s son Javier (Carlos Areces) has taken on his father’s mantle and now plays the Sad Clown in a circus. When Javier falls in love with the beautiful dancer Natalia (Carolina Bang), he comes into conflict with her brutal lover Sergio, the circus’s Silly Clown, leading to a mad apotheosis at the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s monument to national reconciliation in the wake of the Civil War.
Saturday, March 28 at 9:45 p.m.

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