In this essay i’m going to talk about Medem’s cinema, mainly concentrating on 2 of his films ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ and ‘Cows’ examining the treatment of time as well as how Medem portrays identity. Moreover, I am going to underline briefly how women are portrayed in Medem’s films. Lastly I’m going to identify what role identity plays in Basque cinema.
Julio Medem was born on 21st october 1958 and is a Spanish film director and screenwriter from San Sebastian in Spain. Medem has always had interest in film-making since a very young age, he used to take his father’s Super 8 camera and start shooting. Medem has graduated in Medicine at the Basque Country University, however after he left college he became a film critic for a while, and later on an editor, screenwriter and an assistant director. This helped Julio direct ‘Vacas’ (‘Cows’) which was his first full-length film, and it has won a Goya Award. He then released ‘Earth’, ‘The Red Squirrel’ and ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ however ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ was compared to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s work.
Julio Medem plays a role in the Basque cinema history according to De Ros’s article “Vacas and Basque cinema” which debuted around the start of 1990s and made Basque cinema very International. Conventions in Medem’s films point out the issues of identity and time. The reason Medem stands out in the new European cinema is due to his composite narrative and evocative symbolism in his films. Medem has earned the title of Spain’s most promising auteur. Julio Medem carefully chooses his actors and actresses to make sure that he maintains the traditional Spanish culture in his films and so it is performed at its highest level.
Medem always tends to portray women in his own unique way rather than identifying them from a stereotypical view who lacks identity. He drifts away from the society’s ‘norms’ of a female and portrays his female protagonists in a very empowering and independent way. Simone de Beauvoir, a great philosopher says that a “Woman is explicitly assigned by her relationship a man. An idea of world itself is the creation of men. They describe it through own point of view and this floats together with absolute truth” (de Beauvoir, 1949). Eventhough Medem portrays females as strong individuals in his films, men are being criticised and judged.
Another film by Medem is called ‘Vacas’ or ‘Cows’ which was made in 1991, which is set in the most isolated valleys. The film takes place in 1875, during a civil conflict, the second Carlist War which took place during the 19th century in Spain, and the film ends 60 years later on the Spanish Civil War on the battlefields. The characters are played by the same actors which play three generations of Basque peasants. Vacas by Julio Medem has put him in the category of Basque cinema according to De Ros’s article “Vacas and Basque Cinema”. In “Vacas” “Julio Medem is one of the central figures of a thriving Basque cinema and his work characteristically associated with a number of the identifying features of the rural genre: questions of continuity and change, latent violence, nature and spirituality. Etc.” (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas, 2006). After Medem’s film ‘Vacas’ also known as ‘cows’ was released in 1992, he was considered as the new shine of Basque cinema by many as he was very distinctive compared to other Spanish cinema filmmakers and directors. “The film was seen as an appropriate continuation of a tradition which had been forcefully launched in the 1980s by the newly established policy of State subsides to the cinema” (Liverpool University Press, 2018)
Jordan and Morgan- Tamosunas say that some young directors in addition with Medem have “re-directed” the rural genre.(Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas, 2006) Usually the norms of a film which is considered a rural genre would have timeless, integrity with high moral standards, Vacas by Medem is the complete opposite, there is a lot of violence and mayhem. We would normally expect just a simple rural life, however in Vacas by Medem there’s objects flying as well as other fairytale like visuals going on. One of the examples is when Juan throws an axe and the camera is following the axe but it’s all happening in a slow emotion as the axe flies into the forest through air. Medem changes around the idea of time and space in his film to make the reality completely different from the idealism of rural genre, which makes him unique compared to other directors. Medem then makes another point in Vacas, he portrays identity through land and earth almost mocking the reality of life. To be more specific, theres a scene of a cow eating grass, digesting it and then finally passing the leftovers, leaving behind the true beauty of the earth, and just satirises identity, and saying the land is nothing but grass and earth.
Another film I am going to talk about which got Julio Medem the fame and the shine in the Spanish cinema was ‘Lovers of the Arctic circle’. ‘Lovers of the Arctic circle’ also knows as ‘Los amantes del circulo polar’ is a love story between Ana and Otto, two young individuals who keep their passionate love a secret which isn’t the usual type of Spanish cinema. The usual Spanish cinema would be that particular traditional Spanish comedy also in relation to ‘esperpento’ stereotypes which means a “person or thing that stands out for its ugliness, sloppiness or ridiculous or grotesque appearance. (Word reference, 2018)
Medem’s aim in his films is to deliberately confuse the audience through his narrative. Most of his films are quite non-chronological which means that the storyline doesn’t have a pattern and isn’t narrate in time order. Another very popular theme that Medem includes in his films is something happening coincidentally. For example, in ‘Lovers of the Arctic circle’ Otto and Ana meet by coincidence numerous of times which leaves the audience clueless and relate situations to psychic thoughts. ‘Lovers of the Arctic circle’ plays a big role in Medem’s cinema as its got one of the strongest narratives and interesting themes going on. Even the main protagonists names Ana and Otto, the names are both palindromes which means they are spelt and pronounced the same if you read the backwards. This film is a perfect example how Medem showcases time in his cinema. ‘Lovers of the Arctic circle’ is all about time itself. Otto and Ana meet when they are at the age of 8 in their school which is the first coincidence. When Ana’s father dies, Otto’s father marries Ana’s mother, which leads to Ana thinking Otto is the reincarnation of her father, however as the time goes on, they fall in love with each other. Several reasons occurred which led them to separate. Otto became a pilot flying from Spain to the Arctic circle which happens to be where Ana decides to move to have a break from everything mainly due to the break up with Otto and the divorce of her parents. As time passes Ana believes its fate and that Otto will come to look for her in Finland. The ending of the movie leaves the audience clueless and confused as its unclear which two shown parts is the reality however the audience had no problem with connecting to the storyline. One part consists of Otto and Ana meeting and another Otto arriving at the scene of Ana laying on the floor after getting hit by a car. There is a part in the film where a stranded German paratrooper is being rescued by a Basque farmer and it is made in reference to his Basque mother and German father. Medem says it’s a “way of bringing together the two sides of my family” (Camhi, 1999) In this film there are missed identities as Medem kept changing his characters, furthermore this film doesn’t have a time pattern or order which made the movie even more strange.
In conclusion, Medem has played a big role in the Spanish cinema, yes, he has been inspired by various film-directors, perhaps if it wasn’t for his father, maybe he wouldn’t have been where he is as he shot all his first short films on his father camera. Medem’s films have had a cultural as well as traditional impact on Basque cinema, not only individualising his work, but also linking his movies to the Spanish Civil War. Moments in his films which appeared to be more sensitive, Medem delivered them to the audience through metaphors, miss en scene and visuals. Each one of his films has its own meaning behind it, and is some Medem leaves us clueless, giving us a chance to make our own decision to decide what purpose the movie carries.