While largely unknown outside Spain, Jaime Rosales is among the most celebrated and controversial filmmakers of his time at home. The three feature films he has made have attracted both acclaim and censure: the former from critics and cinephiles, who see a distinctive and innovative cinematic voice in the making; and the latter from self-proclaimed moral custodians, taken aback by his portrayal of serial killers and terrorists as ordinary human beings when not preoccupied with their deadly, anti-social deeds.
Take The Hours of the Days, Rosales' film debut in 2003. For most of his time on screen, middle-aged boutique owner Abel's life seems mundane to the extreme, as Rosales shows him shaving, eating, looking for an apartment with his partner, helping a friend set up a business, and negotiating a redundancy package with his assistant. Amid such banalities, however, Abel also conducts random acts of extreme violence, as he murders two strangers without explanation.
And then there's Bullet in the Head. Despite sharing a title with John Woo Yu-sum's trigger-happy action spectacle, the 2008 film is a subtle, largely dialogue-free piece, as viewers are made to observe the gangly Ion going through his routine. He socialises with friends, goes to parties, has sex and attends meetings, the content of which viewers are never privy to, as the character is always seen from afar, mostly behind windows or curtains. Then the man travels to France, has breakfast in a drive-through caf? and suddenly all hell breaks loose, as he and his friends - who turn out to be Basque separatist militants - engage a couple of plain-clothes policemen in a deadly ambush.
'Most of the people I know, that is normal people with normal lives, normal jobs and normal families, spend most of their time in mundane activities,' says Morales from Barcelona, where his film company Fresdeval is based.
'They go to the supermarket, have a drink in a bar, have dinner in their kitchen. They work and have some social life too. That's how it is in Spain and, I think, is quite similar in other developed countries. The key thing is, there are lots of things happening psychologically while we do all these apparently meaningless activities. The density of life holds in those mundane moments. I think there is very little to learn about life in a James Bond or Batman movie for the everyman.'
What makes Rosales' films even more intriguing is how ordinary happenings are shown in the most unadorned ways, with all his feature films comprising stationary shots. 'I have never put myself in a situation in which moving the camera would add something extra as opposed to a well-positioned static shot,' he says. 'In a static shot, the viewer - that is, the director in the first place and [then] the audience in the cinema - can really see and, what is more important, think ... I think the fewer the technical elements one uses, the deeper the look one can achieve.'
Some may argue that Solitary Fragments, the 2007 film for which Rosales won the best film and best director titles at Spain's annual Goya Awards, can hardly be described as stylistically austere. Set in Madrid, it tells the story of two women - Adela, a young divorcee struggling to hold down a job and raise a child, and Antonia, a widow coping with three troubled, bickering daughters. The narrative unfolds in Polyvision, a technique in which the story plays out on a screen divided in half, each showing a different perspective on the scene.
Rosales used Polyvision in situations 'when the conflict among characters on screen has to do with the necessity and the psychological impossibility of being together'.
'My favourite scene is when Adela and her former husband talk for the last time after the death of their son: they both share a past but have no future together,' he says.
And then there's another scene revolving around the death of one of the protagonists: 'On one side, we see death ... and in the other we see the emptiness of the balcony with the sound of the street, the traffic. A life is gone, but the world goes on impassively.'
Solitary Fragments' original Spanish title is La Soledad, or 'Solitude' - a sentiment articulated in the way characters are literally separated from each other on screen and confined in their own small spaces. Such alienation - in what the 39-year-old business school graduate describes as life 'in an economic reality' - remains key in Rosales' films; his scepticism towards a commodity-laden, contemporary life also leads to his refusal to dress his films with bombastic technical gimmickry.
'[In] the 21st century we have replaced a full system of religious myths with a new system of myths based on consumerism. I have difficulty believing in most religious myths, but I don't quite believe salvation will be achieved just through economic development. It's not true, it's another myth.
'It may be hard for Chinese people to accept this nowadays, because China is becoming an international economic power - but with time the myth of economic power will dissolve in China, too.'
Solitary Fragments screens today at 7.20pm at Palace IFC as part of the European Film Festival