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The Furies: A clan cursed


- Acclaimed playwright Miguel del Arco’s cinematic début, the opening film at the 61st Seminci festival, exudes the mythological air of a classical tragedy

The Furies: A clan cursed
Carmen Machi and Pere Arquillué in The Furies

Miguel del Arco enjoyed acting roles in films by Imanol Uribe (Bwana, Plenilune), Manuel Gómez Pereira (Mouth to Mouth) and Emilio Martínez Lázaro (His Master's Voice) before emerging as Spain’s leading playwright and theatre director, the brains behind hugely successful postmodern adaptations of classic plays like The Misanthrope, Of Mice and Men and The Government Inspector. A recent addition to his extensive canon was his controversial take on an operetta by Federico Chueca, a collaboration with Kamikaze colleague Paco León (who was also cast in the leading role), which hit theatres in Spain in the summer. Del Arco’s unappeasable revisionist itch — and his theatrical roots — are palpable in The Furies [+see also:
film profile
, his first cinematic work, which last Saturday opened the 61st Seminci Festival in Valladolid (see news).

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But who are these furies of the film’s title? None better to explain than the director himself: “The ancient Greeks invented these mythical figures as a way of explaining things that were beyond their comprehension: they are beings whose purpose is to plague anyone who sins against the family. They would be invoked to account for those moments of malevolent intent towards the family that everyone experiences, and that sometimes cause its members to behave in baffling ways.” This clarification/introduction helps to capture the fatalistic, tragic and mythological essence of a film that tries to marry the magic of Homeric drama with the tensions of 21st-century family life — and doesn’t always pull it off with aplomb.

In the film’s very first scenes, the furies appear as three grim-faced women in old-fashioned dress: clearly, they are not from our world... nor our time. We are then introduced to the family at the heart of the story, presided over by a divorced older couple (José Sacristán and Mercedes Sampietro). He is a former actor, now suffering from senile dementia; she is an eminent psychologist who embarks on a new life with a much younger man. No sooner has their mother taken a decision that impinges on both their economic future and their emotive past, their offspring (Carmen Machi, Gonzalo de Castro and Alberto San Juan) begin to act like implacable vampires, turning a family gathering into a raging narcissistic nightmare.

The cast occasionally lapse into histrionics, there are one or two transitions that would work better on the stage than they do on the screen, and the pedantry of the classical/modern fusion tends to grate in places. Nevertheless, Del Arco should be applauded for his courage in taking on the prickly topic of the dysfunctional family with such painful accuracy. It is perilously easy (and discomfiting) to see a reflection of oneself in these sons and daughters who oversee the lives of their parents while continuing to leech off them in such cruel and abusive ways. The rampant consumerism gripping modern society also finds expression in the behaviour of some of the characters, who do not practice the ethics and modern attitudes that they demand from others. And, of course, exposing the kinds of secrets and lies that every household has locked away packs a powerful cathartic punch. In this respect The Furies reaches fine peaks of emotion, insight and interest, although its excessive length (the prologue in particular is dragged out more than it needs to be) and the final apotheosis risk alienating anyone less familiar with the epic tragedy genre. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the film will succeed in connecting with contemporary audiences. The cinematic initiation of this ground-breaking man of the theatre gutsily embodies a split personality and pushes the boundaries of his creativity — yielding a rather uncertain result.

(Translated from Spanish)

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