7 December 2003 | khatcher-2
Look Back in Anger........ or shame.
José Luis Garci's first feature-length film, he had previously made a few shorts, coincided and more or less collided head on with that delicate time in Spanish contemporary history now known as the Transition. Franco had died, parliamentary dignitaries had to vote themselves out of existence so as to make way for a referendum leading to a democratic system, and Juan Carlos was awaiting in the side-lines (in Portugal) to step in and regain his throne. A tricky, tricky time; and at times, looking back, I think that the way the whole change-over was carried out was almost miraculous. Fortunately the armed forces went along with the process and when on the 23rd February 1981 a gun-toting colonel took over the parliament, they stood by the King. Since that attempted - and ridiculous - coup, Spain has not wavered, but has forged ahead and taken its place in the world. I would even say `its rightful place'.
Garci is more or less the same age as myself; so evidently we experienced that period of time with some kind of similarity, though perhaps with rather differing finalities. He was into films; I was into trying to get in love with any of those beautiful Spanish women ................
I suppose, looking back, we can surmise that `Asignatura Pendiente' is not that bad, being his first real film. The fact is that with the lifting of censorship there was a plethora of films with explicit sex content of all kinds; some not too bad, I suppose; most were definitely rubbish. But there is the point: the things younger Spanish people of those times, now getting on for 60, were denied in their lives. They were denied sexual relations by both ecclesiastical hierarchy and the creaking Franco régime. Young women had to be virgins on their wedding day. That, today, sounds positively prehistoric; my questions on whether young men should also be virgins when walking down the aisle went unanswered. By 1977 I had been in Spain for just five years, and evidently I still had a lot to learn.
I have said elsewhere on IMDb that in Spanish cinematography, you should divide everything into before 1975 and everything since then. This film by Garci sits just on the arbitrary dividing line, but architecturally it belongs to before 1975, though its explicit content obviously places it in post-1975. However, it has that rather old-fashioned way of putting films on the screen, so inherent in Spanish productions of the time. This feeling is heightened by the presence of José Sacristán: an actor who has never drawn my attention for any reason whatsoever as his tasteless sojourns in films of weightless insipidness which he went in for, making as many as ten films a year, would not excite the curiosity of a fly. He does not act: he machine-guns his dialogues just about the same in everything he has ever done. In `Asignatura Pendiente' nothing changes and he plays his role ditto countless others.
Fortunately Garci went on to make some memorable films, such as Volver a Empezar (1982), El Abuelo (1998)(qv), Canción de Cuna (1994), La Herida Luminosa (1997)(qv), You're the One (una historia de entonces) (2000)(qv), with which he redeems himself for a rather mediocre first film, or for disasters like Asignatura Aprobada (1987). By far the best, his masterpiece, is El Abuelo and is worth going out of your way to see, either in a cinema or on video/DVD. Because of Garci's penchant for getting overly enthusiastic with the so-called `golden days of Hollywood' as well as his own films generally being of the kind looking back in time, it would seem that Garci is the director most associated with that transitional period.
The showing of this film on TV now was made to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the new Spanish Constitution, likewise heralded with all kinds of reports, documentaries and other `memos', mostly in the vein of `here is how we were then'. I can remember all that as if it were but yesterday: but what most surprises me is that all that seems to belong on another planet, such are the tremendous changes that have taken place in a bare 25 years.
If this film is representative of those years, you may well conjecture, as I do, that quite a struggle was going on deep inside the sociological structures making up the country, still rather wobbly at the knees and not too sure of where it was going. Likewise, `Asignatura Pendiente' only just barely rates wobbling out of an `insufficient'.