Well, that's that. As MostlyFilm continues to ride slowly into the sunset, we've just published what will be my final solo contribution to the site (though I'll pop up in two more collaborative pieces before the week's out). Monoglot Movie Club: Epitaph 1, contrary to what you may have read at the start of my Polish Netflix article, is a real finale to seven years of the feature. It's my one and only chance to run with an idea that I've been toying with since 2013 or thereabouts: take a few films that I've reviewed without subtitles for MMC, watch them again with subtitles, and see if it changes my opinion of them. I've picked seven films from more or less the entire run of the feature - for four of them I've been able to draw on second reviews written for these pages, while the other three have been rewatched specially for this piece. You'll have to read Epitaph 1 to see how all that turned out.
The final episode of MMC is, as ever, accompanied by Red Button Bonus Material on this site. I've always enjoyed the challenge of coming up with some sort of cross-promotional piece that'll back up the main article, whether it's just a simple collection of video trailers or a more detailed bit of text background. This one, however, is a little out of the ordinary.
At the top of the MostlyFilm piece is a map showing the 28 cities where I watched films for the series. What if I told you that really, it should have been 29 cities? And that there was a lost MMC film review that never made it to publication? And that you're going to get to see that previously unpublished review right now? Would that impress you? Would it?
Oh. Well, here it is anyway.
If you're ever in Barcelona, the Filmoteca is terrifically good value: there's normally a free exhibition on display, and tickets for films still cost a mere €4. On that day in November 2015, the exhibition was a study of the life and work of Catalan director Francisco Rovira Beleta: he's best known internationally for Los Tarantos, a flamenco adaptation of Romeo & Juliet which picked up a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination in 1964. Rovira Beleta made films on many subjects in his lifetime, and at the time of the exhibition the Filmoteca was screening a selection of them, including the 1970 example we saw on our visit. Even without speaking the language, the programme synopsis contained a couple of buzzwords which made it sound intriguing: "El cantant Joan Manuel Serrat interpreta un pescador eivissenc que perd el nord per una noia anglesa i ho abandona tot per seguir-la a Londres, on s'introduirà al món hippie."
The film in question has the catchy title La Llarga Agonia Dels Peixos Fora De L’Aigua, which literally translates as The Long Agony Of The Fish Out Of Water. For those of you wondering why there's slightly different wording on the poster image above, remember that this is a Catalan movie: elsewhere in the country it went under the traditional Spanish title La larga agonía de los peces fuera del agua. Except that in both cases - on the poster in the Spanish version, and on the on-screen title in the Catalan - they frequently got bored halfway through and just dropped the 'out of water' bit. If you don't believe me, here are the opening titles in Catalan, and here they are in Castellano.
You'll notice that both versions open with the same naggingly catchy song, Bon Dia. Get used to that as an idea, as Joan Manuel Serrat was best known as a singer (he's still going today), and the film is basically a vehicle for both his acting and singing talents. He plays a fisherman, imaginatively named Joan, who meets a young English girl currently visiting on holiday. Joan falls heavily for her, much to the disgust of his actual girlfriend. Inevitably, the relationship is doomed, and before too long she's gone back home again. Joan mopes for a bit and then decides to take matters into his own hands: he takes a boat over to London, pulling in next to Tower Bridge as the boats from Spain always do. This is the first of many odd notes that make you aware that the director's working in an unfamiliar location.
This also marks the point where we transition into a hippiesplotation movie: well, this is London in 1970. Joan finds a squat with the help of some friendly freaks he meets in Piccadilly Circus, and then heads off in search of his girl. The two eventually have an awkward reunion in a pub in St John’s Wood, a scene which Rovira Beleta wrecks with his assumption that English pubs have full table service. In between his attempts at rekindling the relationship, Joan tries to make ends meet by performing his music: in one scene he's busking outside Ronnie Scott's, but half an hour later he's playing on the main stage at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival by accident. Even the Filmoteca's accompanying exhibition feels the need to describe this as unlikely, and there are unconvincing cuts between real footage of the festival and closeup shots of Joan performing on a tiny fake stage somewhere else entirely. After the surreal Isle of Wight interlude, the film never quite gets back on track: Joan gets caught up in a peace protest and is sent back to Spain, along with his new girlfriend and a psycho with a gun who's solely there to give the film a climax.
The story may be a bit ropey, but Rovira Beleta's use of verite footage gives this a large degree of period charm, and you can't really argue with a film that only cost four euro to see. (We were warned at the box office that the 35mm print had a number of defects, but it was generally OK, apart from one scene where you couldn’t tell the difference between an external scene in a rainstorm and the grainy interior scene which followed it.) And there are always the songs, which a cheeky person on YouTube has conveniently bundled into a single compilation for everyone's free viewing and listening pleasure. The only other method of seeing them at the moment is to buy the DVD, and... well, just look at that Amazon link down there...