‘20,000 Bees,’ ‘Sica,’ ‘Girl Unknown,’ ‘Upon Entry’  Energize Malaga Fest Competition

Running March 10-19, and now hosting the Spanish Screenings, the Malaga Film Festival is now firmly established as Spain’s biggest movie event in the early part of the year. Strategically positioned fairly sharp on the heels of the Berlinale, the Spanish event offers top Spanish titles at the German festival the chance to consolidate their reputations while often producing new discoveries, especially from first-time directors. 

Many titles, from a Spanish film industry whose younger directors are highly social conscience and favor art-house, are issue driven. 

“There’s a search for identity, whether a young trans girl’s exploration of gender identity or young leads to understand the world they live in, or the search for love and a sense pf strangeness, of being a stranger to oneself,” Juan Antonio Vigar, Málaga Film Festival director said of this year’s main Competition. Following, a brief breakdown of its titles. 

“20,000 Species of Bees,” (Estíbaliz Urresola Solaguren, Spain)

The 2023 Berlin Festival best leading performance winner and a major triumph for Cannes Critics’ Week winner (“Chords”) Urresola on her fiction feature debut. “Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s accomplished debut feature treats its eight-year-old protagonist’s gender crisis with care and compassion, but is also attentive to wider familial rhythms and conflicts,” Variety said. 

Catalonia’s Inicia Films (“La Maternal”) produces with Gariza Films (“Nora”. Malaga’s Competition frontrunner. Sales: Luxbox.

 “Bajo Terapia,” (Gerardo Herrero, Spain)

Argentine Matias Del Federico’s first and multi-prized play,  staged in a score of countries, gets a big screen makeover from Herrero, whose “Rough Winds” won Malaga’s top Golden Biznaga in 2006. Three couples are summoned by their psychologist for group therapy which pushes them to wash increasingly dirty linen in public. A choral comedy driving deep into marriage flashpoints. Sales: Latido

“Las Buenas Compañías,” (Silvia Munt, Spain, France)

The latest from actor-director Munt, teaming regional powerhouses Irusoin and Oberón Cinematográfica, partners on Spanish Oscar entry “The Endless Trench,” France’s Manny Films and La Fidèle Production. Spain 1976: As the country hurtling towards democracy, Bea joins the feminist cause and, to her surprise, falls in love with another girl, from Spain’s upper classes, setting the personal and politics on collision course. Sales: Filmax. 

“Empieza El Baile,” (Marina Seresesky, Argentina, Spain)

Two Argentine greats, Darío Grandinetti (“Talk To Her”) and Mercedes Morán (“An Unexpected Love”), star as a once world famous tango couple who have lost their passion. They embark on a road trip to reencounter a past they’ve avoided, and find life and nothing less as they do. Argentine scribe-helmer Marina Seresesky (“Lo Nunca Visto”) directs. 

“Les Encantats,” (Elena Trapé, Spain)

Directed by Trapé, whose “The Distances” swept Malaga’s Golden Biznaga for best picture as well as director and actress (Alexandra Jiménez) in 2018, an introspective drama starring Laia Costa, fresh off a Spanish Academy Goya for “Lullaby,”as a separated mother who retreats to her family house in the Pyrenees to think through her life. Sales: Latido

“The Fantastic Case of the Golem,” (Juan González, Fernando Martínez – “Burnin’ Percebes”)

Produced by Aquí y Allí Films and Sideral, a star-spangled cast for the surreal fantasy second feature of one of Spain’s most intriguing duos who burst on the scene with 2020’s “La Reina de los lagartos.” Here, after a night of drinking, Juan sees a friend fall several storeys to hit a car bonnet, smashing into a thousand pieces. Only Juan seems overly surprised. Sales: Sideral

“The Fish Bowl,” (“La Pecera,” Puerto Rico, Spain)

A Sundance 2023 World Cinema Dramatic Competition entry from Puerto Rico’s Glorimar Marrero Sánchez, an intimate drama with environmental overtones, in which Noelia, a 40-year-old Puerto Rican visual artist who’s seen her cancer returning goes back to her native Vieques in Puerto Rico, and claims her freedom to decide her own fate. Spain’s Solita Films and Auna Producciones and Puerto Rico’s Canica Films produce. Sales: Visit Films

 “Girl Unknown” (Pablo Maqueda, Spain)

A big buzz title going into Malaga, a chilling grooming thriller with a twist and market potential from Maqueda, a longterm producer (“Manic Pixie Dream Girl”) and director of Herzog tribute “Dear Werner (Walking on Cinema).” Produced by Sideral and La Fragua Audiovisual. Sales: Filmax.

“Matria,” (Alvaro Gago, Spain)

Alvaro Gago’s Berlin 2023 Panorama player, a feature version of his 2018 Sundance winning short, expanded and modified by star María Vázquez’s much more assertive central performance to portray the battle of a Galician woman, Ramona, 42, for economic independence. An inimitable sense of place, a Galician town on the coast, and a woman, explored in her multiple contradictions. Produced by “Alcarràs” backers Avalon, and Elástica Films, and Matriuska and Ringo Media. Sales: New Europe Film Sales.

“The Punishment,” (“El Castigo,” Matías Bize, Chile)

The second film to see the light in 2022 for Bize, the multi-prized director of “In the Bed,” “The Life of Fish,” and “The Memory of Water,” having won at Malaga with lockdown inspired “Private Messages.” Here, a couple’s seven-year-old son is missing, having been left momentarily by the side of the road as a punishment. Set in a forest and played out in real time, the boy’s parents search for him. Ceneca lead produces. A “confident and courageous mise-en-scène and clockwork script by Coral Cruz,” says Luis Renart, at sales agent Bendita Sales.

“Rebellion,” (José Luis Rugeles, Colombia, Argentina, U.S.)

From José Luis Rugeles whose “Alias María” played Cannes Un Certain Regard and was Colombia’s Oscar submission, drifting through moments in Colombian salsa giant Arroyo’s life and psyche from childhood through to life end, exploring memory, addiction, and Arroyo’s deep connection to song composition.

Lead produced by Federico Durán, a film that reflects “our continuous support for movies that present a director’s vision and can advance storytelling in very creative ways,” says sales agent Latido Films’ Antonio Saura. 

“Red Shoes,” (Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser, Italy, Mexico)

From first time director Eichelmann Kaiser, produced by 101 Distribution and co-produced by Mexico’s BHD Film. A farmer father travels from mountains in Mexico to retrieve his dead daughter’s body. A film “about redemption, specifically spiritual redemption as profound as a return to our origins; a redemption that defies death itself,” said 102’s director of distribution Tommaso Cerqueglini. Sales: 102 Distribution

“Saudade Became Home Inside,” (“Saudade fez Morada aqui Dentro,” Haroldo Borges, Brazil)

A potential prize contender if it performs true to past form, the second feature from Brazil’s Borges (“Son of Ox”) follows the heartbreaking experience of a young, father-less Brazilian teenager confronting a degenerative eye disease. A metaphor for Brazil which has to learn to re-see, says its director, in 2022 the production, though missing out on prizes at Ventana Sur, swept Malaga WIP, BoliviaLab and Guadalajara Construye, claiming three prizes at each of the events including Malaga’s Jury Prize for best Latino project and Guadalajara’s WIP Paradiso Prize.

“Sica,” (Carla Subirana, Spain)

Playing Berlin’s Generation 14plus, the first fiction feature of documentarist Subirana (“Kanimambo”), a classic coming of age tale, set on Galicia’s treacherous Costa da Morte where a daughter’s search for her drowned father’s body leads her to a larger understanding of a wider world. Atmospheric and skilfully constructed, like “Alcarràs,” a film which deals with big issues but with a memorable sense of place. Alba Sotorra Productions produces with Galicia’s Miremira: Sales: Latido Films.

“Sister & Sister,” (“Las Hijas,” Kattia González Zúñiga, Panama, Chile)

Seen at IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada, and December’s Ventana Sur, where it won a Copia Final Percepciones Textuales Award, and now playing SXSW, the director’s feature debut, about two teen sisters who travel from Costa Rica to Panama to look for their estranged father. Ceibita Films (“La Picada”) lead produces. Sales: Pluto Films.

“Tregua(s),” (Mario Hernández, Spain)

The feature debut of a consistently prized short filmmaker, a 2016 Valladolid Festival best short winner for “Slow Wine,” reflecting Hernández’s parallel career as a playwright and theater director. A two-hander chamber piece, two ex-lovers, now locked in serious relationships with other partners, re-meet at a film festival, but can’t slough off the lies and nostalgia of their current lives.

“Unicorns,” (Alex Lora, Spain)

Few new movies at Málaga have “Unicorns’” credentials. The awaited fiction feature debut of Alex Lora, a Variety 2014 Spanish talent to track, from Inicia Films’ Valerie Delpierre, producer of “Schoolgirls” and “La Maternal” from director Pilar Palomero, who co-writes “Unicorns.” Greta Fernández (“A Thief’s Daughter”) stars. A sexually-charged drama-thriller focusing on hedonist Isa, into sex but not relations, fascinated by the next brief fix, the superficial, social media – a symbol of the age. Sales: Filmax

“Upon Entry,” (Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastián Vásquez, Spain)

One of Malaga’s biggest buzz films, a Tallin Fipresci prize winner boarded by Charades and Anonymous Content, now also playing SXSW in the Narrative Spotlight Section. Described as a gripping psychological thriller, it turns on the a Spanish couple with U.S. residence visas subjected to an aggressive second vetting by border guards at Newark Airport. Produced by a pedigreed Spanish alliance of Carles Torras for Zabriskie Films, Carlos Juárez for Basque Films, Xosé Zapata, Sergio Adrià and Alba Sotorra. Sales: Charades

“I Wake Up With a Dream,” (“Desperté con un sueño,” Pablo Solarz, Argentina, Uruguay)

From Solarz, a hugely popular mid-brow comedy scribe (“Un novio para mi mujer,” “Me casé con un boludo” ) turned director of wider ranging fare, such as 2018’s “The Last Suit” or “I Wake…” a personal tale of self realization and Berlinale Generation Plus contender, about young teen Felipe who dreams of becoming an actor, takes classes, an audition, hides his ambition from his mother. Pampa Films, Mutante, Aramos Cine and Bocacha Films produce.   

Out of Competition:

“Someone Who Takes Care of Me,” (Daniela Fejerman, Spain)

The Malaga Festival opener, a celebration of acting, its passion craft and legacy, starring Emma Suarez (“Julieta”); Aura Garrido (“What the Future Holds”) and Magüi Mira (“El rey del mambo”). Fejerman directs from a story by “Manolito Gafotas” author Elvira Lindo. Latido Films

“Como Dios Manda,” (Paz Giménez Díaz, Spain)

A Warner Bros. España release in Spain and vehicle for comedian Leo Harlem who plays a patriarchal tax inspector suddenly fined at work and transferred to a sexual equality program. Sales: Film Factory

Ed Meza and Callum McLennan contributed to this article.

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