Noventa minutos/Ninety minutes (Antonio del Amo, Spain, 1949)

noventa minutos

 

Screenshot 2020-03-16 at 14.38.17

Congratulations and thanks to the Filmoteca Española for this inventive and valuable response to the current pandemic. They´ve had to close the Cine Doré in Madrid, but have put up the newly restored Noventa minutos/ 90 minutes, along with program notes and a report on the film´s restoration, online so people shut indoors can continue to see and discuss film classics and the nation´s film heritage, often, and certainly in the case of Noventa minutos, not the same thing. The online program is titled ‘Doré en casa’/The Doré Cinema from Home and can be seen here:

They´ve included programme notes on the film by José Luis Castro: 90 minutos José Luis Castro hola de sala

and a report on the history and various factors involved in the film´s restoration: restauración 90 minutos María Muñoz.

I thought it a pity they didn´t include a version with English sub-titles as it would certainly have increased the potential audience for the film. But then it is a service for Spanish people in Spain so why should they?

Noventa minutos/ Ninety minutes is a film that people interested in Francoist Spanish culture will be fascinated by. It was made by a team of filmmakers who´d fought on the Republican side of the Spanish civil war –something of an achievement in itself in the late forties, years of hunger and retribution — and by a filmmaker from a poor peasant background, Antonio del Amo (Pedro Almodóvar is the only other one I know of comparable background). When I saw it I thought of doing a video essay on how it exemplifies aspects of Francoist culture (the military, gender, religion, motherhood) but then read in the essay notes accompanying the film that it brushed against the censorship norms of the time, due to its advocacy for peace, and that according to J.C Seguín the fim is ‘a clear reflexion on and condemnation of the civil war and its disasters ({se trata de hecho} de una clara reflexión y una condena de la guerra civil y sus desastres), something I´d not cottoned on to, and all of which makes it even more fascinating.

The film is interestingly set in London during the Blitz and should be of particular enjoyment and interest to British friends. It begins with  a set of bobbies (see below, it’s worth looking it just to see how much like a Pepe the character of Preston [José Maria Lado] looks like). They  look nothing like bobbies so might in fact be military police patrolling the neighbourhood or it could just be part of the aesthetic of poverty so prevalent in Spanish cinema of the period. The bobbies talk about, and introduce us to, the inhabitants of a particular building :Mrs. Winter (Julia Caba Alba) who lives with and strictly controls her daughter Helen (Lolita Moreno),  a Spanish colonel and his grandson: a Spanish Doctor, Eugenia Suárez (Nani Fernández), a nervous Mr Marchand (Fernando Fernán-Gómez in an early role) and his wife who´s expecting at any moment; and key to our narrative, Mrs. Dupont (Mary Lamar) and her husband (José Jaspe)

 

Mrs. Dupont was once in love with and wrote letters to Albert (Jacinto San Emeterio) now in her home trying to blackmail her with them. He wants 500 pounds and sex. She´s only got 300 and is about to be taken advantage of at the very moment her husband walks in. She leads Albert into another room to hide , and that´s where the blackmailer comes face to face with a burglar, Richard (Enrique Guitart). They know and dislike each other, the burglar finding the blackmailer a cad. As they tussle with each other a bomb goes off, the blackmailer escapes, but the burglar, hurt now, is forced to descend into the bomb shelter along with the other inhabitants of the building.

Most of the action takes place in one set, the bomb shelter, a good way of making films in the cheap, and particularly economical considering the whole film was shot at night to take advantage of the sets used during the day for El santuario no se rinde [A. Ruíz-Castillo, 1949). There´s a deadline as well: once all the inhabitants are in the bomb shell they only have ninety minutes worth of oxygen. How will each face the possibility of death? Will they get out? The set-up reminded me of Jean-Paul Sartre´s Huis Clos, the being enclosed, the feeling of having no way out, the way each of the characters is a jumping point to a discussion of ideas. It´s filmed bu Juan Mariné with great skill and careful use of lighting, with skilful compositions, and expressive shallow focus. These are filmmakers who knew what they were doing but didn´t quite have the means to realise their ideas or make the best use of their skills.

The film innocently expresses very rigid notions of gender (you´re a real man), the delight when the baby born is a boy) and of romance (like when the doctor who´s now fallen in love with the burgler rushes to say it´s her first kiss’; on Spanishness  ´you as a Spaniard will understand’; and on Catholicism, Catholicism is the most beautiful religion, the urge to baptise the baby, the significance of the cross. How this ideology brushes up against it also being ”a clear reflexion on and condemnation of the civil war and its disasters’ is one of the reasons the film remains so interesting. But it´s not the only one. The plot is ingenious. The cinematography, carefully considered. We have on view already several different types of traditions of Spanish acting (Julia Caba Alba vs. Fernán-Gomez etc.

 

I´m grateful to Cine Doré for allowing me to see something I´d otherwise have great trouble accessing.

 

José Arroyo

 

Further image/notes:

 

 

 

 

 

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