Alejandaro Amenabar's Tesis: Art, Commerce and Renewal in Spanish Cinema

Article excerpt

Something is afoot in Spanish cinema: generational renovation, industrial and legal changes, new blood to relieve the old guard, transformations in the sociological portrait of its audience, increasing media interest in its images..., different metamorphoses that, whether considered in combination or separately, are changing the face of filmic production in this country.

Carlos Heredero, in the introduction to 20 nuevos directores del cine espanol (1)

Since the mid-1990s, and after a decade of steady decline, Spanish cinema has been undergoing a renaissance in local and global markets. There are myriad practical explanations for this shift, as Carlos Heredero affirms in the above quote. Noteworthy particular changes range from the remodeling of Audiovisual! Communications departments, previously a concentration offered by Journalism schools, which enabled university students to gain practical experience in running television and film networks, to the rebirth of "escuelas de cine," prestigious film schools across the country that operate outside the university system but which carry national accreditation. Perhaps the principal reason for the recent success in Spanish filmmaking and spectatorship, however, resides not in the newly acquired equipment and training centers, but rather in what underlies these practical applications--a transformation in the Spanish philosophy towards the seventh art: the acceptance by audiences, directors, producers, critics, an d the media that art and commerce are not necessarily an incompatible combination.

One of the major forces driving this unlikely marriage of art and commerce is the quest of the newest generation of Spanish directors to appeal to their audience's "enjoyment factor" while presenting them with "quality cinema," seemingly a category conventionally reserved only for films that make little or no profit at the box office. New directors, most of whom were infants or toddlers when Franco died, have found success by virtually turning their backs on the themes of the Civil War and Francoism, as well as ignoring the work of their predecessors who had developed a cinema renowned for its socio-political commitment, but also for its stagnant themes and talent for boring its spectators. (2) These younger filmmakers have not entirely eschewed Spain's political and cinematic past, but rather the latter plays an integral and inextricable role in the conceptualization of their work. That is to say, many of their films incorporate a repressed historical memory, suggesting their reaction against Francoist ideol ogy and oppositional cinema (the Other) in their search for a contemporary identity (the One). In this way, they necessarily incorporate both thesis and antithesis in the process of their films.

This repressed past may surface in many forms: in cinematic technique, dialogue, image, and in the case of Alejandro Amenabar's 1995 thriller Tesis [Thesis], it appears in all of the aforementioned as allusions to Spanish cinema under the dictatorship. The casting of Ana Torrent as the female protagonist, Angela, for instance, recuperates the child star whose eyes and vision enchanted millions of Spanish filmgoers while inspiring them to interrogate their own inculcation into Francoist ideology, and then subsequently inspiring them to question this inculcation. Through her roles as spectator-in-the-text in Victor Erice's Espiritu de la colmena [Spirit of the Beehive] (1973) and Carlos Saura's Cria cuervos [Raise Ravens, or iCria!] (1975), Torrent serves as the principal intertext for Tesis, recalling for the contemporary Spanish audience the cinematic and political referents of its predecessors. In the opening sequence of Tesis, for example, the metro authorities prevent Angela--and her off-screen audience, a lready drawn into her perspective through subjective point-of-view camera shots--from observing the suicidal "hombre partido por la mitad" [the man cut in half] on the train tracks just as she is (and we are) on the scopophilic, as well as physical (the train platform's), verge of witnessing the horror. …