Festival of New Cinema From Spain: Where's Javier?

Javier Bardem must be in here someplace. Yet skimming through my clutch of preview DVDs, I failed to find him. This showcase of eight Iberian features (plus some shorts) offers other rising talents, including Maribel Verdú (Pan's Labyrinth), but most of the titles and faces are new, unseen at SIFF, unlikely to show up again in Seattle. Of these visitors, two films about visitors bear mentioning. In the City of Sylvia (7 p.m. Sun., 9:15 p.m. Mon.) has a handsome young Spaniard (Xavier Lafitte) arrive in the French city of Strasbourg to search for the woman, Sylvia, he met in a bar six years earlier. Back then, apparently, there were no cameras or cell phones, so he's not clear on what she looks like or how to find her. So he hangs out in a cafe all day, studying the local women, filling his notebook with sketches and poetry. And this, surprisingly, becomes an engrossing exercise in shared voyeurism for us, too, on the guy's three-day search. The medieval street maze of Strasbourg is beautiful, like its women. (Extra bonus for Prop. 1 voters: The city has really cool trams.) And though the film plays like a half-speed version of Before Sunset (obsessive guy, elusive girl, yet none of the chit-chat), it broadens into a philosophical quest. The guy is in love with the idea of Sylvia. Even if he can't find that particular woman, Strasbourg assumes her attributes under his gaze. Me (7 p.m. Sat., 7:15 p.m. Sun.) finds a friendless German maintenance worker (Alex Brendemühl) in not-so-sunny Majorca, where he unhappily toils for a horrid rich couple who own a vacation home on the Spanish island. Hans, as he discovers, replaced the previous handyman named Hans, who evidently went on some kind of crime and adultery spree. This Hans, speaking halting Spanish, tries to befriend the locals—only they keep confusing him with the other Hans. Which Hans is Hans?!? Even Hans 2.0 begins to wonder. Roman Polanski's Repulsion comes to mind, with Brendemühl as the Catherine Deneuve figure who's slowly going insane. Viewers may finally feel the same way. But if nothing else, Me might inspire you to visit Majorca. Or go see a movie actually containing Javier Bardem. (Full schedule and details: http://www.nwfilmforum.org/.) BRIAN MILLER

 
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