"A mi madre, a todas las madres" (For my mother, for all mothers.) Very similar words brought up the credits for another Spanish film of recent years, but in Solas there isn't a single redemptive transsexual in sight! Almodovar will probably never make a film this powerful. His best work lies way back in his Banderas and pre-Banderas days, before he set about inflating himself as a born-again cine-auteur. The compassion oozing out of Benito Zambrano's Solas is heart-rending. In comparison, that with which Pedro cloaks his pederastic priest in Bad Education is rather superficial and easy. (Those ridiculous Almodovar brothers had a hissy fit and resigned from the Academia de Cine last December when that film missed out on nominations for the Goyas. Solas was awarded five back in '99)
The action in Solas is based around a defining few days in the relationship between Madre and daughter María. Yes there's a quaint little old lady, but she's a shuffling symbol of restrained sadness, nothing to get especially cheerful about.
The unenlightened despot of the family, Padre, lies morosely in a hospital bed in Seville. Madre has come to town to stay with her daughter while her repugnant husband recuperates. María is intelligent but combustible like her authoritarian parent and her attempt to escape from both him and the countryside has left her in the deepest of blue-collar ruts. Her course of self-destruction includes cigarettes, alcohol and getting knocked up by her heartless trucker boyfriend. Madre brings just a hint of love and light into her daughter's battered existence, but she too is a wounded soul.
If in Tempus Fugit we had the smiling face of underachievement, and in Sideways mediocrity as distressed by incipient failure; here in Solas it's full-on loserdom without any of the laughs.
Last week I cackled when Peter Bradshaw showed off his emotional scars from his multiple viewings of Sideways: "Audiences at the screenings where I have been present may have heard something like a fusillade of gunshots from the auditorium; it was the sound of my heart breaking into a thousand pieces."
Get a grip man! By all means feel a bit sorry for Miles Raymond, but he's still a SCUMBAG. Save the throat lumps for people like María, Madre and Vecino...even brutish old Padre. Their problem is more like a curse that runs down the generations. (Ok, maybe there is just a hint of social realism in Sideways - we are offered a chance to guess at the impact of maternal influence on Miles' character and the family life of single-mother Stephanie briefly makes its proletarian ugliness felt.)
Here in Britain we generally import people to lead these kind of shitty lives, but Spanish towns can still suck 'em in off the sierras. The performace of Ana Fernández is astounding. Can you really act such physical desolation? - it seems to be written all over her face.
Solas is a "film which seems pessimistic on the surface but which in fact is not", Benito Zambrano advises in his notes on the DVD. This 'surface' is the first two-thirds of the narrative. which is grim stuff, unsentimental almost to a fault. Even the cinematography seems to suffer from low self-esteem.
Redemption does eventually put in an appearance - well, it lived next door all along in the shape of Vecino, a lonely old man with the face of Socrates who, although too late to save Madre, sorts María out simply by pointing out that at least she hasn't run out of time like he has. (You might also say that Álvarez Novoa’s rendition of this tender-hearted figure saves the film before it too runs out of time.) Offering himself up as an adoptive grandfather for María's forthcoming child, he eventually persuades her to wriggle free of the life of lacerating lonesomeness they have both led in the beautiful city on the Guadalquivir.