Dir/scr: Freddy Mas Franqueza. Sp-Pol. 2008. 100mins.
An ambitious, memorable debut from Spain’s Freddy Mas Franqueza, Awaking From A Dream is tough going in terms of subject matter and all the more sad for the fact that it was apparently inspired by Franqueza’s own life. A young boy is abandoned by his mother to live with his austere, grieving grandfather and when later the old man develops Alzheimer’s, it’s time for the boy to repay his debt. The film finishes with a mule-kick set in Berlin ensuring that while Franqueza’s film is commercially a difficult prospect, it’s a debut that viewers are unlikely to ever forget.
Awaking From A Dream was supported by Spain’s Alzheimer’s Foundation and there’s certainly no softening of the illness’s multiple blows here even though the doe eyes of young child actor Sergio Padilla as Marcel steer the film in a risky, pathos-seeking direction. His unhappy mother Monica (Lopez) clearly doesn’t want him and drops the eight year old boy off with his grandfather Pascual (Alterio) who runs a hardware shop in an old Castellon village.
Monica’s past is never clarified - she left home but it is not clear why - and Pascual has never got over the death of his wife and the departure of his daughter and is a shell of a man when Marcel comes to stay. In brief, but effective, sequences, we see this pair of damaged souls bring each other back from the brink before the film cuts to the present day. Marcel hopes to open a guesthouse with his girlfriend Bea (Gimeno) but cannot ignore his grandfather’s increasingly-erratic behaviour.
As the old man, Alterio delivers a performance which could be Goya material and Lopez is also raw, restrained, and memorable.
Awaking From A Dream is a very silent, bleak film, told in a straightforward manner with long, contemplative shots. Its period recreations are apt and the characterisations and performances also feel accurate. It’s about as far as you can get from upbeat, however, and has a struggle ahead which its current lap of the festival circuit (Chicago, Pusan, Moscow) may help to combat.
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