As part of Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival
Regional identity in Spain has always been a hot topic. In the UK there is a tendency to see other countries as solid, homogenous identities, despite the tendency of national boundaries to shift and drift like the tectonic plates that bear their weight. Just as in Britain it feels like we’re approaching some tipping point, events in Catalonia highlights the volatility elsewhere on the continent. It seems an appropriate time therefore for the emergence of art that asserts its regionally specific roots.
A esmorga, which roughly translates as “a drinking spree,” is based on a 1959 by the Galician writer Eduardo Blanco Amor’s novel of the same title. Authenticity pours from the screen with the intensity of the frequent onscreen downpours that have the beleaguered drinkers scurrying to the next watering hole. Cibrán (Miguel de Lira) is a manual labourer tempted away from a day’s work by Bocas (Karra Elejalde), and Milhomes (Antonio Duran,”Morris”). These two reprobates are already a few days into their libations, and ensnare Cibrán in a surreal, meandering stagger from one troubling encounter to the next.
Unusually for a film that harks back to a pastoral existence and with a strong sense of regional identity, A esmorga is notable for an utter lack of nostalgia. There is a strong pursuit of oblivion, and not for the momentary Nirvana of a merciful blackout. This is a binge of personally apocalyptic levels. For all there are the undoubted comic elements of the raucously drunk, it’s a desperate humour; small moments of desolate joy etched in a craggy, bleak existence.
Self-destruction rather than hedonism is at the heart of the story. Each of the men have their own problems that they’re drinking to forget, while causing more through their behaviour as they careen through the town. Milhomes in particular seems to be fighting with his feelings towards Bocas, his interactions with his friends peppered with chummy caresses and increasingly inappropriate kisses. Cibrán is warned repeatedly by other bar patrons that the local law is out hunting for them, for unspecified reasons, and Milhomes is keen to avoid one particular tavern in particular.
A esmorga is a rather uncompromising work, but hugely impressive in its adherence to its surreal, ramshackle path. There are moments where it feels self-indulgent and wallowing, almost a suffocating experience, yet there is always a memorable scene just around the corner; the haunting image of a women driven mad by a stillbirth pushing a doll in a pram, or a prodigiously-bosomed bar proprietress soothing chilblains between her breasts. It’s appeal may limited outside of Galicia and the festival circuit, but Ignacio Vilar has made a film of darkly evocative lyricism that is well worth the effort to track down.