Amama: Deep roots
by Alfonso Rivera
- The debut feature-length fiction film by Asier Altuna as a solo director is simultaneously a beautiful romantic poem to tradition and a portrait of inter-generational conflict
A man runs through the woods, clearly in distress: he is carrying an elderly lady on his back while towing behind him a seemingly never-ending rope... The intriguing, beautiful, powerful and highly symbolic opening scene of Amama [+see also:
interview: Asier Altuna
film profile] already sets the tone, the intention and the narrative style of the first feature-length fiction film (previously, in 2005, he teamed up with Telmo Esnal to shoot Aupa Etxebeste!, before going solo to direct the 2011 documentary Bertsolari [+see also:
film profile]) by Asier Altuna (Bergara, Gipuzkoa, 1969), which was presented at the 63rd edition of the San Sebastián International Film Festival. This Basque-language movie was the second such film, following Flowers [+see also:
film profile], to compete in the official section of the gathering, where it snagged the Irizar Basque Film Award (read more).
And so, right from its opening frames, Amama rejects a standard narrative and long-winded verbal explanations, instead relying on people's looks, silence and symbols. What actually does the job of the narration are the gorgeous images and the nimbleness with which they are edited, and they mean as much as, if not more than, the dialogue. Through this technique, we get to know a family living in a country house, slap bang in the middle of the mighty northern natural landscape: tradition dictates that the best-qualified son inherits the property and keeps it intact, but when this son decides to emigrate, doubts start to creep up on the father, a tough and uncommunicative man accustomed to working the fields, who finds it hard to accept the changes that the modern age is bringing with it, at breakneck speed. That is when the responsibility falls to Amaia (Iraia Elías), the daughter of husband and wife Tomás (Kándido Uranga) and Isabel (Klara Badiola). But the girl battles between the urban and rural ways of life, between her artistic unease and the ancestral bonds that tie her to the land, leading her to clash head on with her father's authoritarian temperament.
This heartrending drama boasting powerful imagery deals with determinism in the family, imposed roles and self-sufficient worlds that are on the verge of extinction. Altuna (one of the screenwriters, together with his colleague Telmo Esnal) knows exactly what he is talking about, as he was born and raised in one of these country houses that used to feed a family unit without them needing to resort to any external sources. In such an environment, the burden of lineage is akin to baggage that we will never be able to rid ourselves of, and the film's initial image mentioned earlier captures this with extraordinary lyricism, charm and sensitivity.
The cinematography courtesy of Javier Aguirre Erauso – featuring inserts shot in Super 8 as a kind of family album – highlights the beauty of the natural surroundings of the Artikutza mountains, where the movie was filmed, and the sometimes harrowing music by Javi P3z and Mursego really brings out the changing moods and emotions of the main characters: the father and daughter who, despite living in worlds that are drifting further apart every day, will make the effort to understand, love and respect each other. All of this unfolds before the watchful, silent gaze of the grandmother (Amparo Badiola) who lends the film its title. But while this movie is brimming with truth, nostalgia and love for its director's birthplace (read the interview), this does not prevent its message from carrying weight much further afield than the Basque Country.
(Translated from Spanish)
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