Stepping into cinema one of the beloved Cornerhouse on a chilly Saturday evening, I instantly felt a sense of welcoming and community. The long cinema was not full, but it felt very tight-knit. A mixture of Spanish and English voices washed over me in a joyous wave. We were gathered to watch one of the featured films at this year’s edition of the renowned ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American film festival, Feriado, which literally translates to ‘Holiday’.

Although I hadn’t come with anyone, it instantly felt very homely. I took my shoes off and folded my feet up on the chair, draping my coat over my legs as a blanket, and had no fear of being judged for doing so.

From the very beginning, one could feel an instant connection with the film’s protagonist, Juan. Perhaps because I’m also only 15, I could understand and identify with the emotions he conveyed. The film is shot in a style typical of independent cinema – dainty, longer-than-average facial close-ups and very biased towards the protagonist. Starting with some upside-down shots of the city which are later explained, the film creates an air of curiosity. The plot is not particularly outstanding – a white, 16-year-old boy trying to find himself by exploring his sexuality. But what is outstanding is the breathtaking scenery of the Ecuadorian countryside in which the film is set and the flawless acting from the entire cast. The portrayal of Juan is sensational, accurately representing adolescence by quickly switching between humour and discomfort.

Visually and audibly, the film is extremely pleasing in terms of aesthetics, and the focus on character relationships is a special sight. Despite this, I found difficulty in understanding some parts, as it focuses on the Ecuadorian banking sector crash of 1999. This was a problem because the film seems to be aimed at a younger audience, many of whom would also not understand much of that storyline.

With that said, it is a touching, critically relatable feature film about a struggle through which we all must go to find our true selves. It’s a strong debut from the director, Diego Araujo, and a very insightful piece on life in Ecuador.

I returned to the Cornerhouse the following evening for the viewing of Roberto Flores’ second feature film, Ruido Rosa. Looking curiously around cinema two, a much smaller room, I clocked that the majority of the audience were middle-aged. This took me by surprise somehow, as I expected indie film to harvest students and hipsters out of the corners of their darkened bedrooms and into a place where they could become one. I had been proven wrong.

Again the audience was a mix of languages and still felt very friendly despite the age difference. For instance, a relatively young woman sat next to me struck up a conversation with an elderly lady to her left, despite them never having met before. This in itself left me in shock, as I’d assumed the shadow of modern technology had limited our capability to engage with strangers. Maybe this is just a preconceived idea I have retained due to my growing up in the Facebook generation.

From the very first shot, the very first sound of the film, I felt goosebumps. Unfolding in front of me was one of the world’s simplest tales, about two elderly people who develop an odd relationship in the rundown suburbs of Barranquilla in Colombia, which is simultaneously the most captivating motion I have ever had the honour of viewing.

Staying true to the art-house style, the film is not so much plot-based, but extremely focused on character and location. The basis of the story was two poor, working class people – Carmen and Luis – finding an odd love, then having it ripped away as Carmen dreams of going to America. This, paired with the spectacular, lingering camera shots and minimal sound, is enough to make the hairs stand up on anyone’s neck.

The particular focus on Barranquilla’s rainy season creates an electric atmosphere that’s essential for telling Carmen and Luis’ story. Although the film is very serious, there are moments of comic genius, which outline the unhappiness of the characters. The relationship between Carmen and Luis is almost childlike. You could feel the naïvety in the air, but it was totally heart-warming and desperately saddening.

In a Q&A with Flores afterwards, he made it very clear that the plot was not what mattered to him. He said, “There are only three things I think are important in a film: the characters, what the characters do for a living, and the spaces in which they live.” I asked him why the location of Barranquilla particularly was so important, and he answered, “I live there – I’m very dedicated to my city and telling the story of my city”.

After two hours of being totally fixated on the screen that night, something inside me was ignited. The raw emotion and true devotion utterly inspired me. I found myself going to bed and waking up thinking about the film. To summarise, it is hands down the best film I have ever seen.

The festival as a whole was something very new to me, but something I will definitely revisit. The vast range of films – from brilliant comedy ¿Quien Mato A Bambi? (Who Killed Bambi?), to the touching tale of Maria y Araña – are all groundbreaking motion pictures that are not to be missed. Roberto Flores summed it up well, “Viva… Manchester… is now a very special place for me.”

Background photo of Ruido Rosa courtesy of Cornerhouse.
cornerhouse.org/film/film-events/viva-spanish-and-latin-american-film-festival-2015-the-viva-weekender

Sara Louise Tonge