Film Review: Carmen and Lola

Image source: IMDB

Each year, Natasha and I attend the Spanish Film Festival at Palace Cinemas in Sydney. We also go to the German and Greek festivals when we can, however the Spanish festival has become our annual tradition, as we have been going since we first got together.

This year, we made a point of seeing a film called Carmen and Lola, which I believe exemplifies the amazing kinds of storytelling that one can find beyond Hollywood.

The film follows the story of two young women, Carmen and Lola, who live in a close-knit gypsy community in the suburbs of Madrid. Both must grapple with the heavy expectations of their respective families: Carmen is engaged to be married and must come to terms with the idea that she is to be a housewife and raise as many children as possible; and Lola is somewhat of a black sheep, choosing to continue her school education and dreaming of a life at university. Furthermore, she has a passion for street art and graffiti and is also coming to terms with her love for women. They both become friends at the local market where they work and in their repeat encounters, develop a relationship and complicity that threatens to destabilise their own connections to their families.

Carmen and Lola is a beautiful film that deals with themes of love, family, friendship and tradition. Whilst the gypsy families in the film obviously love their children and wish the very best for them, their expectations are framed by years of strict, intergenerational tradition and patriarchy. Men are truly privileged—considerably more than in the surrounding non-gypsy community—and women are expected to forsake all education and any other kind of creative or professional ambition.

Music is used sparingly throughout the film, playing mainly in the form of live performance by characters, such as bands or accompanying audio systems at parties and get-togethers. This allows the viewer to experience the pure emotion of the film, without any soundtrack music telling you how to feel (as is so often the case in Hollywood movies). Simultaneously, this lack of a consistent, dominating soundtrack works with a range of long and close shots to create somewhat of a claustrophobic feel for the viewer. It almost feels like on-screen theatre. Madrid’s gypsy community is so separate from the outside world and we only hear the voices, traditional music and often drawn-out, empty silence of these underprivileged streets. The rest of the city is visible but just out of reach.

In the genuine representation of these characters, as Carmen and Lola walk the streets and go about their day, they are followed by a kind of silence—one that makes you feel like someone, perhaps a neighbour, is always watching.

As Hollywood goes about recycling stories and remaking superhero movies endlessly, many viewers will often say ‘There’s nothing good at the movies anymore’. On the other hand, foreign-language filmmakers from Europe and beyond are making unbelievably real, relatable stories that employ motifs, characters and techniques that create a totally alternative experience. As I watched Carmen and Lola, I felt the same suffocation and pressure that they did in their insular world. Films should transport you and this one certainly did.

Carmen and Lola is showing around Australia at the Spanish Film Festival at Palace Cinemas from 16 April to 26 May 2019.

Album Review: re:member by Ólafur Arnalds

Whenever I happen to stick on the radio or browse the top charts on Apple Music, I’m often disappointed by the waves of new music that I encounter. A lot of it continues to be disposable and entirely forgettable, failing to push music into really new and interesting directions.

For some reason, the nation of Iceland appears to be immune to this musical mediocrity, with bands and artists like Björk, Sigur Rós, Of a Minor Reflection and Of Monsters and Men continuing to release truly impressive albums that defy your expectations.

Neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds is no exception to this Icelandic trend. With his latest album, re:member, he has created something both beautiful and technologically innovative. The album was created with his new musical system, called Stratus. The system includes two self-playing pianos, which are triggered by a central piano that is played by Arnalds. The custom-built piano software is the result of two years of research and work by audio developer and composer Halldor Eldjarn. As Arnalds plays a note on the piano, two different notes are generated subsequently by the Stratus system, which creates unpredictable harmonies and melodies to form songs.

What is striking about this album is its subtlety and its feeling of optimism and hopefulness. Quite often, such piano music would probably be described by many as aimless, however, Arnalds is a master of holding listeners’ attention, guiding them through an often mysterious, other-worldly soundscape.

For me, this album definitely passes what I call the ‘HomePod test’. In my experience at home, Apple’s HomePod offers absolutely superb audio separation and deep bass without distortion or excessive vibration. Arnalds’s re:member sounds like it was made almost with the HomePod in mind, including shimmering, high piano notes contrasting with deep, drawn-out bass throughout many of the tracks. Each and every part of any given song shines and is clearly discernible.

Two particular stand-outs on the album (besides the opening title track) are partial and ekki hugsa, which demonstrate this HomePod-readiness. I’m typically the kind of person who detests the use of anything other than title case in my music library (harking back to my old manual iTunes file-tagging days), however, Arnalds has convinced me otherwise here. The use of lower-case letters on each track title seems fun and alternative, giving even more of a positive and informal feel to a neo-classical album.

For such a tiny nation, Iceland certainly has its act together and keeps producing impressive material. I wish that musicians in other countries would sort theirs out.

You can stream the album re:member here on Apple Music.

Album: ‘Eternal Nightcap’

As I become more of a crusty, old curmudgeon (now at the ripe, old age of 26), I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of much of the popular music that is released today.

I often spend time thinking about what defines my musical taste and which particular genres I enjoy most… it can be difficult and is highly dependent on the mood of any given day.

An album to which I frequently listen for relaxation and general nostalgia is the great Eternal Nightcap by Australian band The Whitlams. Released in 1997, its lead single No Aphrodisiac took first place in national radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100 at the time and took the band to a high level of Australian reverence. It also features a fantastic trio of related songs under the shared moniker of Charlie, all of which deal with issues such a substance abuse and depression. There’s even a fantastic cover of Bob Dylan’s classic Tangled up in Blue.

When most people think of classic Australian bands, they mention names such as AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and other typical rock outfits. To me, The Whitlams are the quintessential Australian group. Diverse in sound, cheeky and at times dry in their lyrics, they capture a feeling that makes sense to both urban and regional audiences, driven by precise piano melodies.

It’s hard to pin the band to a particular genre… kind of pop-rock, sort of folk, semi-alternative and at times easy listening and funk. Frontman Tim Freedman’s vocals are often not even akin to traditional singing; I would call his style ‘rhythmic enunciation’.

This album has always been a favourite of mine and was a staple in many long road trips when I was a child in the back seat of the family car. If you’re not familiar with the band and are after something that’s a bit different, check out this album.