Black Bread

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am


Poor Agust? Villaronga. Having dominated his country's premier movie awards last year, his latest film, Black Bread, is now mostly known outside Spain for having kept Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In from getting a surefire best-foreign-language-film nomination at this year's Academy Awards.

One could take this as proof of the US-centric perspective which persists in the international press, but the fact that it's also a view shared by many of Villaronga's compatriots indicates how much he still stands on the margins of Spanish cinema. And that's despite it being nearly 25 years since he made waves with his audacious, often gory thrillers which revisit troubling chapters in contemporary Spanish history.

Speaking at last year's International Film Festival Rotterdam - where his films were shown in a retrospective - the 59-year-old said he was fascinated with telling stories about a character's painful loss of innocence. It's a theme at the forefront of many of his films, especially those set in Franco-era Spain.

His first, In a Glass Cage, revolves around a young man trying to get even with a Nazi doctor who abused him and many other boys in a concentration camp during the second world war. His 2000 film The Sea concerns a group of childhood friends still struggling with a tragic experience they endured together during the Spanish civil war.

Black Bread is set in rural Catalonia in the early 1940s, when the Falangist persecution of the leftists was in full swing. Determined to clear the name of his father - who is accused of having pushed a wagon carrying a man and a boy off a cliff - the 11-year-old Andreu (Francesc Colomer) finds himself mired in a labyrinth of lies which shaped the lives of many in his town.

Just as with Almodovar, sex is a central element in Villaronga's films - and disturbingly so in Black Bread, a story filled with illicit liaisons. That even pre-adolescent children take part in this - as in the ambiguous bond between Andreu and his companion, Nuria (Marina Comas) - works as metaphor for what Villaronga has described as a corruption of ideals, and the collapse of civil human relationships which is very much present today.

Black Bread, Mar 5, 9.50pm, Mar 14, 9.55pm, Palace IFC, Mar 10, 2pm, Broadway Cinematheque, as part of the European Film Festival 2012