La Spagnola (2000)

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Released 16-Aug-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-with introduction
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-9 (18:55)
Deleted Scenes-with Introduction (1:45)
Production Notes
Easter Egg-Photos (2)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:09)
Interviews-Crew-Frank Cox - Theatrical Promotion
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Featurette-IF Awards
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Featurette-The Man You Know (33:29)
Trailer-The Bank; The Closet; Innocence; Monsoon Wedding
Trailer-No Man's Land; Shadow Of The Vampire
DVD Credits
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 86:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:56) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Steve Jacobs
Studio
Distributor
Australian Film Comm
Madman Entertainment
Starring Lola Marceli
Alice Ansara
Lourdes Bartoleme
Alex Dimitriades
Case Click
RPI ? Music Cezary Skubiszewski


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    There is little doubt that one of the defining features of Australian film is the uniqueness of them. Like the non-Hollywood releases around the world, there is a generally high standard of quality despite the often minuscule amounts of money with which filmmakers have to work. That lack of money in some ways helps the non-Hollywood films as they have to resort to simplicity in order to produce quality films on small budgets. Whilst there are certainly exceptions, it would be fair to say that there are very few high-budget non-Hollywood films made. This lack of budget and the need to resort to simplicity and often speed to complete films is what creates the uniqueness of those films, and Australian films in particular. For all those by-the-numbers Hollywood films, there is often little to differentiate between them. Yet when you look at Australian films, you can see a vast divergence in the films themselves. Certainly there is little in common between films such as Paperback Hero, Two Hands, Muriel's Wedding, Walkabout and The Dish, to name but a few Australian films in my DVD collection. Yet even if there were plenty of similarities between these films - all excellent in their own right by the way - they are vastly different to this Australian film.

    So what makes La Spagnola even more unique amongst the broader Australian film catalogue? How about a Spanish leading lady? How about an Australian foreign language film? How about a seven year labour of love for the writer and producer Anna-Maria Monticelli? How about a film billed as a dark comedy that is more of a close-to-the-bone drama about an almost uniquely Australian situation confronting the migrants of the post-war era? There is so much more here that is unusual that it makes the film very hard to ignore in the broader diet of Hollywood look-alike rubbish. Part of what makes this film such an interesting and often very different Australian film is in the casting and in the choice of language. The leading lady is Lola Marceli, who plays Spanish migrant Lola. Straight away you can see why this Australian film is a foreign language film. Whilst to be sure there is some English dialogue, the film draws heavily upon the experiences of European migrants of the 1950s and 1960s coming to a country where they have to speak a different language. It is not so easy to learn a new language, and so the migrant experience was for the older generations to very much to stick with their native tongue and learn only minimal English, with the younger generation facing the challenges of learning two languages. Since that is the migrant experience, it would of course have been absurd to have the dialogue in English. So we have a mixture of Spanish and Italian as the main language, with English very much in a supporting role.

    La Spagnola is the story of relationships and the effect they have upon us. Lola is a beautiful Spanish migrant whose marriage is very much breaking up. Bringing the older European sensibilities of the woman being dependent upon the man, she seeks to keep her husband from running off into the arms of an Australian lover. Unable to stop the inevitable, Lola descends into a world dominated by bitterness and hatred that eventually sees her pushing away her only daughter Lucia (Alice Ansara). With Lucia a constant reminder of her departed husband, who poetically is deprived to his new lover due to a sudden and terminal heart complaint, Lola is consumed by the need for revenge upon the Australian woman who stole her husband. Lola also comes to realise that men are a bunch of worthless dogs (a cliché that I always take exception to), thus henceforth they can pay for whatever they want.

    The story starts out in a rather detached manner and it takes a while for it to draw you in, but as each little piece of the puzzle is revealed, what has gone before begins to make more sense. I would not wish to reveal any more of the story, for to do so would reveal far too much in the way of spoilers that would ultimately detract from the film. This is certainly a film that draws you in through the methodical craft of the story. In broad terms, the film is shot from two perspectives - that of Lucia, as she comes to terms with the developing divergence from her mother and that of Lola as she contends with the situation of losing her husband and all that entails in the broader sense of 1950s/1960s European attitudes.

    I would hazard a guess that there are many women migrants of the era who can well comprehend the reality of this film. Whilst I was a migrant of the latter part of the 1960s, to some extent I can attest to the isolation of migrants in the broader sense - even though as an English speaker it was vastly easier for me. For a woman stuck at home with children, I can only imagine how they felt in this new country - especially if they lived away from the main population centres. In these circumstances, it is only natural to want to be with countrymen and others in the same situation. Obviously Anna-Maria Monticelli drew upon her experiences in a very large way to be able to prepare a screenplay that is so realistic. To then realistically infuse that broader sense of isolation with the immediate sense of despair as the Australian dream crumbles around you is a real testament to the labour of love that this film represents. Certainly one can easily emphasize with Lola and the situation she finds herself in, and to a large extent can understand why she does what she does. However, whilst Lola is certainly the central character of the drama being played out, and Lola Marceli is certainly superb in the role, this is by no means a film that hangs on her character and her performance.

    It could well be argued that the central character of the film is indeed Lucia, for she is the bridge between the old country and the new country. Whilst that bridge might not be as heavily trafficked as perhaps it should be, and the performance of Alice Ansara does not bear the hallmark of absolute conviction (not the least because she does not come across as the young girl that the story says she should be), the play that goes on around her is like any family disagreement. The swirls and eddies of the flood of emotion often leaves her grasping for an anchor and this is effectively communicated here, even though that anchor might be her hatred of her mother which is really never believable. Where the film generally scores from a performance point of view is in the minor players - Lourdes Bartolemé as Lola's sister Manola has no big role but is very effective in counterpointing the despair of Lola with her slightly homespun approach to things. What she does with a zucchini will certainly change everyone's views on this humble vegetable! Alex Dimitriades plays the over-endowed predatory playboy well enough, although the interest in both Lola and Lucia does not perhaps come across with the necessary conviction - again a factor of Lucia being a young girl in the story as opposed to a young woman.

    In his debut feature film as director, Steve Jacobs has done a decent enough job and along with DP Steve Arnold has captured an essence of Australia that would be familiar to many a migrant. Notwithstanding the generally very good job done all round, it has to be said that this is not the sort of film that is going to win accolades from all. Many will probably find the structure of the film a little too drawn out in that the story does not move forward overly quickly. If you like character-based films, then this is probably going to be very much to your liking as we get plenty of the flaws of these characters exposed. Whilst not a film that I would suggest I would return to on a regular basis, like so many Australian films, it is one that is well worthwhile investigating at least once. You never know, you might just see some of yourself in this film if you are a migrant.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    It has to be said from the outset that Madman/AV Channel have done the quality of the film proud with the quality of the transfer. In addition to being presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, very close to the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, the transfer is 16x9 enhanced. As an added bonus for those of the widescreen-challenged brigade, they have also gone to the trouble of providing Auto Pan and Scan encoding.

    You would certainly have to be a pedantic nit-picker to be finding too much to carp on about in this transfer. Beautifully sharp throughout, at times the definition is as good as I have seen in a long while. This is especially so in some of the more light-challenged scenes in the film. Despite the excellent definition, there is no indication of the use of edge enhancement here at all. Shadow detail is generally quite excellent and contributes to the mood of the film extremely well. Sure there are scenes where it could have been better, but if it were so the film would have been negatively affected. Clarity is excellent too and there is nothing here in the way of grain to worry about. You can also forget about low level noise. The film only falls short of reference quality because of one or two very minor issues - but it is not very far short of such stature, and one of the very few transfers I have seen in recent times to come as close.

    Where this transfer truly excels, however, is in the colours. Okay, it is not the most visually bright palette you will ever see, but then again it was not intended to be. Steve Jacobs makes much comment upon the dust motif during his commentary, and there is little doubt that the film was printed in such a way as to emphasise that dust motif during certain scenes. The colours are a little muted during these sequences, which actually makes a very nice counterpoint to the superbly toned transfer otherwise. Even the scenes in the rather stark and glum house with the preponderance of brown in the tones comes over in a wonderfully vibrant manner that really beats the heck out of just about anything I have seen in the past six months. There is a wonderful consistency to the tones, and when the colours need to be bright or deep, they are rendered magnificently. You will find nothing in the way of oversaturation here and to suggest there would be any colour bleed here would be enough to warrant consideration of legal action by the people responsible for this gorgeous-looking transfer.

    There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were one or two hints of some aliasing, most especially with respect to the cars, during the transfer but overall these were barely noticeable and are only mentioned for the sake of completeness. You would have to be viewing this DVD on a really nit-picking system to have any issue with these minor problems. As we should expect from such a recent transfer, there are no problems with film artefacts.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming during the black scene change at 73:56. As it does come in the change between Acts 2 and 3, it is almost impossible to notice the change and it certainly does not disrupt the film at all.

    The only subtitles on the DVD are the burnt in efforts in the film themselves. I am presuming that these are the subtitles present during the theatrical release of the film. Whilst I am a little surprised that they have not been made selectable for the DVD release, at least we know the film accords to the theatrical release. The subtitles are therefore as accurate as the film's makers intended.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the two soundtracks available on the DVD, being what is notionally called an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. With so much of the dialogue of the film being in Spanish and Italian, it is obviously something of a misnomer to call the soundtrack an English soundtrack. Multilingual is obviously a better description, but I am not sure that the DVD specifications permit such a description.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is clear and easy to understand. As is to be expected when the Spanish and Italian gets a little heated and rushes out at a million miles an hour, there are just the odd hint of audio sync issues here and there. I am quite certain however that this is merely an impression and that in fact no such sync issue exists. It is more than likely due to my English ears and eyes not being good enough to keep up with a solid piece of Spanish invective being spoken by a native Spanish speaker.

    The original music comes from Cezary Skubiszewski (apologies if my typing got that spelling wrong), with some suitable Spanish and Italian contemporary music thrown in for good measure. Overall, the musical contribution is pretty good and draws no attention to itself. I am quite sure that in the absence of such attention, there is nothing at all wrong with the musical score.

    Whilst there will be those who bemoan the lack of a full-blown 5.1 soundtrack for such a recent film, all I have to say is thank whatever deity that the DVD producers place their faith in for not having such a soundtrack. This is a classic dialogue-based film and there is really not too much to be gained from having a six channel soundtrack, as opposed to the excellent two track soundtrack we have here. Whilst it would have been nice to have a surround-encoded soundtrack, just to get some added ambience from the wind motif that permeates the film, it is hardly a world-shattering loss that we don't have it. What we do have is a nice, open-sounding sounding soundtrack that gives the dialogue and music a good chance of presence in the overall soundscape. I have no complaint whatsoever here and found it a thoroughly enjoyable audio transfer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Whilst I have not reviewed too many Australian films, there are certainly few that I can recall having the extent of extras that this little package contains. It should be noted that the general quality of the audio and video transfers has been carried over into the care taken with the compilation of the extras package - and the presentation thereof.

Menu

    With some modest audio and animation enhancement for the main menu only, these are quite nicely presented efforts that are in their entirety 16x9 enhanced.

Audio Commentary - Steve Jacobs (Director)

    This starts out with a short 13 second video introduction from the director before the film commences. The introduction is in the usual 1.33:1 aspect ratio for the extras, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It has to be said that this is not a scintillating effort. Aside from the fact that he has a nasty habit of mentioning plot spoilers way in advance of when they occur, Steve Jacobs has a rather monotone approach that I find terribly boring. Notwithstanding the monotone approach, he also falls into the trap of "now we see (cue relevant actors name here)", guaranteed to send me in search of the off button every time. If you can indulge these annoyances, then he does eventually reveal some interesting enough stuff about the making of the film. Definitely not a classic commentary.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (9) (18:55)

    Despite the name, do not expect a featurette in the true sense of the word. What these are in actual fact is a collection of footage shot from behind the scenes during the making of the film. They have no commentary at all and are basically just straight video shots of rehearsals and discussions about the composition of scenes. Not too bad in themselves, especially the excellent 1.33:1 video transfer (which is of course not 16x9 enhanced and is accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 sound), but in no way an adequate replacement for a properly integrated behind the scenes featurette.

Deleted Scene (1) (1:45)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is not 16x9 enhanced, it features unprocessed dialogue recorded during filming. As such, it is not aurally the best, whilst the video itself reflects the "deleted" status and has not been processed in any way to improve the visual appearance of the footage. It is preceded by a short introduction from Steve Jacobs explaining why it was deleted. It should be noted that like most interview footage presented in the extras, the introduction is shown in a small window box area in the menu itself. This might be fine for large screen owners, but might be almost impossible to see on anything smaller than 56cm from normal viewing distances. The reason for deletion is quite obvious from the introduction - it did not move the story along and thus was unnecessary.

Production Notes

    Sixteen pages of notes about the film and its gestation. The right hand side of the writing appears to be a little out of focus.

Easter Egg

    This comprises two photos, and it is up to you to find them.

Theatrical Trailer (2:09)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing especially memorable about this one, although technically it is quite excellent.

Interview - Crew - Frank Cox

    Frank Cox is actually Managing Director of the films distributor's, New Vision. This section comprises about fifteen minutes of interview material, presented in the little windowbox format, about various aspects of their involvement in the film and the promotion of the film. The six sections making up the whole are entitled: Acquiring The Film, A Foreign Australian Film, Timing Of The Release, Actors Promoting The Film, An All English Trailer and Key Artwork. Whilst I would have qualms about the presentation of the interview material - a proper featurette in full frame format would have been miles better - the content was quite interesting and certainly different.

Interviews - Cast and Crew

    Virtually everything here was taken from the Movie Show on SBS. That being the case, why we only have the answers to questions and not the questions themselves from Margaret Pomeranz is a bit perplexing - I cannot imagine that it is for any copyright release issues since SBS International were involved in the financing of the film. Notwithstanding the lack of an adequate presentation method, the content is interesting enough with each of the main actors, as well as the director and producer making contributions. Unfortunately, there are a couple of mastering glitches in the system: there are seven interview segments with Alex Dimitriades, but we only get to see six, as the sixth item just keeps repeating ad infinitum; and of the six interview segments with Steve Jacobs, the sixth item too keeps on repeating ad infinitum. In both instances, you should forward to the next item or the interview menu as the case may be, as happened with the other interviews on the DVD. The whole lot lasts for about twenty minutes (as you might have guessed, some of the extras package has no timing information encoded - presumably because the windowbox presentation precludes it).

Featurette - IF Awards

    This is a short segment from the 2001 Australian Independent Film Awards, showing Steve Arnold winning the award for cinematography. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is a nice inclusion for completeness' sake, but not especially essential.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    A nice collection of bios for the main cast and crew - with an additional link to their interviews if they are also on the DVD.

Featurette - The Man You Know (33:29)

    La Spagnola might be Steve Jacobs' feature film directorial debut, but he has made short films before - hence the reason why this is included here. The fact that it was made by Steve Jacobs is the only tie-in with the main feature. After a short introduction from the man himself, we get the short film presented in a full frame format which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I cannot in all honesty say that I found this an enthralling effort, but others might have differing opinions. I would also question why it needs to be included in this DVD package, but then again others will not. Of perfectly acceptable technical quality.

Trailers (6)

    Not so much trailers but adverts for other Madman product really. Still, at least they are not stuck before the beginning of the feature and you don't have to look at them if you don't want to. The Closet (1:17), Innocence (2:46), Shadow Of The Vampire (1:28) and The Bank (1:58) are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Monsoon Wedding (2:13) and No Man's Land (2:05) are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but otherwise the format is identical. Nothing wrong in any major way with the technical aspects of the presentations.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as we are aware, this has not been slated for release in Region 1 yet - although the coding of the DVD does make this possible.

Summary

    Whilst I would not suggest that La Spagnola is going to be to everyone's taste, I would suggest that everyone should at least give the film a look. Aside from the fact that it is presented on an excellent DVD, with the transfers being little short of reference quality, the film itself is an extremely well crafted effort with some excellent casting and some great cinematography. This is an Australian release DVD of rare quality and comes highly recommended from me. The only problems I have with the entire package are the windowbox presentation of the interview material and the couple of mastering glitches.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, June 10, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Terry K
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Robin P

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