Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Spanish Cinema Now ‘12: The Sleeping Voice
might be atheists, but they certainly have their passion plays. A Communist martyr will meet her fate as her
sister vainly struggles to save her in Benito Zambrano’s The Sleeping Voice (trailer here), which screens tomorrow as part of the
Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2012 Spanish Cinema Now, their longest running
annual film series.
Voice opens, twelve prisoners are
executed by a firing squad as the women inmates of Madrid’s Ventas jail break
into “The Internationale.” Yes indeed,
why ease into things, when you can break out the bloody shirt right off the
bat. The best Spanish films on the
Spanish Civil War explore the irony and moral ambiguity of the bloody
conflict. This is not one of those
is 1940 and General Francisco Franco is very much alive. He is quite well in fact, having just
consolidated power. With the support of
the church, he has rounded up all the leftwing troublemakers, including Pepita’s
beloved sister Hortensia. Although she and
her husband are active in the Communist guerilla forces, we are assured she is
innocent of everything. Arriving in the
big city to support her very pregnant sister during the sham trial, Pepita
finds work as a maid for the well to do Don Fernando. While he is sympathetic to her situation, she
is not to mention jails or Loyalist family members around his wife, a committed
Nationalist whose brother was killed by the Communists. Of course, being completely guileless, she
does so anyway.
her determination to stay out of politics, Pepita finds herself embroiled in a
plot to help Hortensia’s husband escape to France. That is how she meets the dashing “Black
Jacket.” Against her better judgment,
she starts to fall for the wanted fugitive.
While she navigates the shadowy world of Franco’s Spain, the clock ticks
down to her sister’s presumed death sentence.
Voice has an
unmistakable point of view, which is perfectly fine. However, the large ensemble of women inmates
is largely a collection of interchangeable martyrs. You would think the Nationalists would have
scooped up one or two less than noble prisoners, by sheer virtue of their
there are some interesting figures sprinkled in here and there, particularly
Don Fernando, a Loyalist sympathizer, whose past activism cost him his medical
practice. Only his high ranking military
officer father prevents him from sharing Hortensia’s fate. Pepita is also an intriguing character
(rather fortunately so, since she is the lead), often appearing mired in
childlike state of arrested development, yet knuckling down in times of crisis.
is something deeply arresting about María León’s performance. Her Pepita is the absolute picture of naiveté,
yet she develops some pleasing chemistry with Marc Clotet’s Black Jacket. Jesús Noguero also adds a realistically human
dimension to the proceedings as Don Fernando, even though he is banished from
the third act. Conversely, the
undeniably lovely Inma Cuesta is stuck playing a symbol rather than a character
as secularly angelic Hortensia.
Alex Catalán’s work is attractive to look at, but Zambrano’s hand is simply too
heavy. We just so get it after a
while. Frankly, Voice’s sequences outside the prison, in which poor Pepita learns
something of life, consistently work better than the scenes of predictable
sisterly solidarity behind the walls.
Achingly earnest but fairly grueling over the long haul, The Sleeping Voice is mostly for diehard
Spanish cinema fans and any surviving veterans of the Abraham Lincoln
Brigades. It screens tomorrow (12/9) and
this coming Thursday (12/13) at the Walter Reade Theater during this year’s
Spanish Cinema Now.
Labels: Spanish Cinema, Spanish Cinema Now '12