Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Born free: "La puta y la Ballena" [2004 Spain, Argentina]

Wishing you all a Happy 2014!

I chose Oscar nominated director (La historia oficial, 1985) Luis Puenzo's drama "La puta ya la Ballena" [Eng. Title: The Whore and the Whale] as my first post for 2014, not only for its artistic credentials, but also because it begins with a new year celebration, in a train. The Spanish-Argentinian co-production was perhaps a touch unfortunate to have missed out on awards since it was released during a year of equally great Spanish and Latin American films. To make things worse, the title too was considered controversial by some at the time of release - how else can one explain the Region-1 DVD bearing the title "La Pu y la Ballena"..!

The film narrates two parallel storylines taking place several decades apart. The first story concerns a married Spanish writer (Vera - Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) researching an Argentinian photographer (Emilio - Leonardo Sbaraglia), who participated and died during the Spanish Civil War - she'd been asked to write the copy for an illustrated book featuring Emilio's photographs by her publisher-friend (Jordi - Pep Munné), and is also given supporting material such as un-posted letters and found footage. The assignment takes her to Argentina where she's suddenly diagnosed for breast cancer that requires immediate mastectomy. Vera's illness will prompt her to re-evaluate her marriage, relationships, and also force her to confront her own mortality.

The second story, and the more poignant of the two, concerns the person Emilio's letters were addressed to - his lover Lola (Mercè Llorens), a Spanish Chorus Girl who accompanied her troupe to perform in Argentina, who nevertheless stayed behind after falling in love with Emilio. After all, with her father killed whilst fighting for the Reds, there was nothing for her in Spain to go back to. But Emilio doesn't know how to deal with Lola's free-spiritedness, and abandons her cruelly in a remote corner of Patagonia - he sells her to a blind tango composer (Suárez - Miguel Ángel Solá), to work in his inn that also doubled-up as a brothel. Racked by guilt, Emilio returns to Suárez in order to try and 'buy-back' Lola, or what's left of her, but she had by then already become a shell of her former self - not as much wasted in consequence of her unforeseen prostitute-duties - she's in fact loved and cared for by both Suárez and his mistress Matilde (Belén Blanco), but because of the betrayal by the person she once truly loved, in her own free-spirited way, and not least being treated as a commodity to be traded with...

Both the stories intertwine and connect through the course of the film, and that is where the screenplay scores triumphantly, and devastatingly. There's a whale that appears during both the timelines and that's the reason for its inclusion in the title - the cow beaches and is rescued at the same location on both the occasions. The whale becomes a metaphor for freedom for both the women who encounter it seventy years apart. The film is supported by a superb cast - I can't single anyone out - they're all equally good, and is assisted by breathtaking cinematography, immaculate set design, and authentic period costumes, and lovingly serenaded by an aching tango. By the end, the film will leave you emotionally drained, yet yearning for some more beautiful pain, epitomised by the urge to refrain from conversation with anyone after the credits start rolling.

If you like Julio Medem's films, you'll simply love this one - needless to say, this underrated gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
Not my ideal choice, but this is the best priced one at the time of posting - the PAL edition is ridiculously expensive. The film would look sumptuous if it ever makes it to Blu-ray.


The Nudity: Mercè Llorens, Natalia Otero, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, and Belén Blanco
The film features extensive female nudity for at least a quarter of the film's runtime. It is also a nude scene classic - two of which are legendary, featuring gorgeous Catalan goddess Mercè Llorens and the exquisite Aitana Sánchez-Gijón - both excellent actresses. Natalia Otero plays a prostitute admonished for sleeping in the wrong bed, and Belén Blanco plays Matilde - Suárez's mistress, and also Lola's lover.

Mercè Llorens, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Belén Blanco, and Natalia Otero nude in La puta y la Ballena


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