Hard Times is hard to beat
by Vitor Pinto
23/09/2005 - Sensitive direction and a brilliant cast at the service of a hard-hitting script turned Hard Times (Malas Temporadas) into a serious candidate for the Golden Shell at the 2005 edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival. If the official jury, chaired by Angelica Houston, decides to award a national film (which hasn't happened since 2002 when Fernando León de Aranoa's Los Lunes al sol made a splash) this year's prestigious prize may most certainly recognise Manuel Martín Cuenca's talent.
The recipe for Hard Times isn't new. Cynically, one could say it is just another film built upon fragmented stories that end up inter-crossing. Cuenca's second feature film, after La flaqueza del Bolchevique (2002), may not be far from that formula but he seems to be particularly gifted in treating delicate themes with an unusual accuracy and directing his actors as if they were part of an orchestra: all playing in a sombre register, sometimes giving place to a more violent rhythm, to then adapt again to a softer tone.
Alejandro Hernández's script deals with illegal immigration and reveals the hard times endured by 5 people due to different circumstances: 14 year old Gonzalo (Gonzalo Pedrosa) decides to lock himself in his room to the despair of Anna (Nathalie Poza), his mother who works with refugees; Mikel (Javier Camera), just out of the jail, wants to win the love of his cell-mate; Carlos (Eman Xor Oña) traffics Havana cigars and dreams about being a pilot in Miami and Laura (Leonor Watling) is stuck in a marriage and confined to a wheel chair. Taking these individual situations as the departure point for a social perspective, Cuenta is however very clear when it comes to socially engaged cinema: "I am fond of a certain kind of social cinema, one that isn't willing to pass messages or find answers. That seems very limitating to me. I prefer emotional cinema; I want to tell stories about the bright and the dark sides of people".
Shot in Madrid over 7 weeks in this spring, Hard Times was produced by Iberrota Films with Golem Distribución and Loma Blanca, with the financial support of TVE, Canal +, ETB, ICAA, Junta Andalucía and the Media programme of the European Union.