Kimuak Basque Shorts

Cinemaattic’s Basque Spring Film Festival kicked off on 25th April with a series of ‘Kimuak’ short films from the Basque Country. If you missed their Scottish screenings, they’ll be showing again in London, Manchester and Leeds in May. The selection consisted of six films and was introduced by Cinemaattic’s director, Rafael Cueto, who even provided some txakoli, a typical Basque wine.

The first film, ABOVE 592 METRES (592 METROZ GOITI), by Maddi Barber, explores the relationship between humans and the natural world. This relationship can be one of nurture, as when a calf is fed bottled milk, or of destruction, as represented by the flooding of seven villages and three nature reserves after the construction of a dam. ABOVE 592 METRES returns to the site of these former villages to see what life now dwells there. We see vultures feasting on a dead badger, for instance, whilst former residents reminisce as they look at photographs of their lost town. The approach taken by Barber is disjointed and lacking in a clear narrative, but the shots of the flooded valley are so captivating that nothing else matters. At around 25 minutes, it is the longest film in the selection.

MOTHER (AMA), by Josu Martinez, takes us back to the summer of 1915. It is set in a village in the French part of the Basque Country and it is the most typically Basque of the six films. Through the clothing of the characters and the rural setting of the film, Martinez convincingly conveys the atmosphere of a past time and place. Bea Kurutxarri is the eponymous mother, anxiously waiting for a letter to arrive. Given the context of the First World War, there is an implied urgency, but the film itself is slow-paced and understated. Unfortunately, this resulted in it being the most forgetful of the evening’s six films and, at around seven minutes, it is also the shortest.

STILL FIREFLIES (ANCORA LUCCIOLE) is certainly the most poetic and arguably the most beautiful short of the selection. Maria Elorza chose as the topic of her film the firefly, an astonishing creature that exists in ever dwindling numbers. From the joy of a little girl at a firefly in a jar, to the black-and-white reflections of an old woman, STILL FIREFLIES is about far more than just fireflies, and their disappearing light is a metaphor for something much more profound and mysterious. The title is in Italian, by the way, in reference to the Italian writer and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, who before his murder in 1975 wrote about the disappearance of the fireflies, a trend which sadly continues to this day. Nevertheless, Elorza’s film reminds us that there are still fireflies.

The inclusion of KAFENIO KASTELLO in this selection of Basque shorts is rather inexplicable. Set in Athens with a Greek cast (although the director, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, is Spanish), KAFENIO KASTELLO just doesn’t fit in with the other films, all of which (except perhaps for STILL FIREFLIES) are firmly grounded in the Basque Country. With a running time of nineteen minutes, any humour in its premise – men being men and getting drunk – quickly grows tedious. The evening of Basque shorts would not have lost anything without the inclusion of KAFENIO KASTELLO, and it might have had a greater sense of cohesion without it.

Sara Fantova’s DON’T WAKE ME UP (NO ME DESPERTEIS) got things back on track. Ibone Ajuria is Jone, a teenager torn between her politician father and her politically activist friends. DON’T WAKE ME UP contains all the elements of a teen angst film: There is the romantic interest of a boy in Jone’s school, for example, although Jone isn’t interested. Fantova’s short is hardly groundbreaking and it fails to come to a clear conclusion, but with its pleasant soundtrack and its presentation of a modern Basque country, DON’T WAKE ME UP is an enjoyable watch.

Pello Gutiérrez’s WAITING (ZAIN) ended the evening on a hilarious high. Javier Barandiaran plays Javier, an atrocious singer who is well aware of his own mediocrity. He and his bandmates – who don’t seem to get on – perform in a nursing home in front of a few elderly people, and Javier listens to recordings of his songs as he sleeps, perhaps in the hope that this will better his abilities. His attempt to branch out and perform with a new musician (a strange woman with her eyes on him) proves unsuccessful, but very funny to watch. It’s a glum, dark sort of humour, because looked at objectively, WAITING is a very sad film. Be warned: After watching it, you might have song lyrics such as the following stuck in your head: ‘I am the sad poet who wants to find the clean springs of dirty rivers…’

If I had to sum up this year’s Kimuak selection of Basque shorts in two words? Oso ondo!

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