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Vulcania: The past, the future or the – nightmarish – present?

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- José Skaf’s feature debut is an admirable attempt at making a dystopian movie within a Spanish film industry that is not usually inclined to dabble in this particular subgenre

Vulcania: The past, the future or the – nightmarish – present?
Miquel Fernández in Vulcania

Since Autómata [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, we have not come across a Spanish film that has signed up to the trend currently shaking up cinema around the world: dystopian fantasy, or how alienating the future can be… as if the present wasn’t alienating enough already. In fact, one would be hard pressed to remember any previous Spanish titles that have been brave enough to take on this genre, and for that very reason, the fact that Zentropa Spain (headed up by the spirited and overwhelmingly passionate David Matamoros) has invested strongly in the debut film – with all the difficulties that entails when it comes to finding funding partners – by a rookie feature director who goes by the name of José Skaf, deserves a never-ending round of applause. Presented at the latest edition of the exacting and roguish Sitges Film Festival (its audiences do not hold back when it comes to showering a film with praise or booing it with all their might: read more), Vulcania [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
is hitting theatres in Spain as the first rung on the ladder before it lands in cinemas in the various countries it has been sold to.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

The movie kicks off with an explosion, which will have dramatic consequences for the inhabitants of a town in the back of beyond, suppressed by the dictatorship of a powerful family that owns a factory where the employees work with minerals. This terrifying setting serves as home for Marta (Aura Garrido, one of the most interesting/unnerving actresses on the current Spanish film scene – just think of her in Stockholm [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) and Jonás (Miquel Fernández, whom we saw in another bold fantastic film, The End [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Jorge Torregrossa
film profile
]
), who start to get closer to one another and join forces to escape from this stifling and insufferable microcosm.

Standing out among the cast, besides the leading couple, are José Sacristán (it is hard not to find him popping up in a Spanish film at the moment, ever since he was rediscovered in Magical Girl [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Carlos Vermut
film profile
]
), the wonderful Ana Wagener (winner of a Goya Award for The Sleeping Voice [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) and a surprising Silvia Abril - surprising because we are more used to seeing her in comedic roles, such as when she played the “environmentally friendly mother” in the deliriously entertaining – and underrated – 3 Many Weddings [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Javier Ruiz Caldera
film profile
]
.

Thanks to a planning process that made the most of the natural locations in the Catalan Pyrenees, Vulcania has joined the club of movies that look more expensive than they actually were: the €2 million budget was provided by Zentropa International Spain, Zentropa International Sweden, Film Väst and French outfit Ran Entertainment, while further backing came from the ICAA (the Spanish Film Institute – read more). TVE and TV3 have acquired the broadcasting rights.

As for the directing talents of 38-year-old Argentinian José Skaf, this so-far short-filmmaker and programmer for the TCM channel (he has also created adverts and music videos) passes with flying colours in his attempt to insert us into a grey, oppressive and savage world, although the movie's tone is fairly cold (as required by its plot), the mise-en-scène noticeably classical (Skaf makes no attempt to throw his weight around or show off here, unlike certain Oscar-winning directors, who insist on doing so over and over again) and the occasional action scene calls for a little more oomph. But all in all, we should never cease to applaud this attempt at creating a different, daring type of film, which is certainly ambitious in terms of its plot (it’s a socio-political fable, so not that much at all, really…). For that very reason, it is not lacking in mainstream appeal in a film industry like Spain’s, which is so inclined to repeat the formulas that have already proven to be successful. Now all that is left to do is hope that the public gets behind this brave project brought to fruition. 

(Translated from Spanish)

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