La Spagnola (15)

Review by Simon Bell

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Star and director filmographies; Scene selection; Tom Dawson film notes; Original theatrical trailer; World Cinema trailer reel; Region 0.

A SWIRLING dust cloud fills the screen to the sound of a brewing tempest. Then suddenly she appears: The inferno-on-legs; a magnificence of red hot passion. It is La Spagnola herself, kicking and screaming like a fighting hellcat as she attempts desperately to desist her husband's final fling towards freedom.

The film's meant to be Australian, but the Antipodean landscape is merely a backdrop to this story of Spanish and Italian immigrants trying to make a life for themselves on the fringes of a smoke-spewing oil refinery on the outskirts of Sydney, circa 1960.

It's not long before we see the new life the errant husband Ricardo (Simon Palomares) is headed for: It's one he'll share with his blonde mistress and the family savings (in the form of a sleek new set of gleaming wheels).

Meanwhile, Lola's left behind, pregnant, starving and with a 14-year-old despondent misfit of a daughter (who likes pigeons) to bring up. Desperate and destitute in a region she doesn't like or want to like, her quest for revenge begins…

Scripted by actor-turned-writer Anna Maria Monticelli, La Spagnola draws upon its author's own childhood experiences. The attention to detail is welcome.

There's jokes aplenty, more often than not about animals and food... whether barbarically skinning goats on the kitchen table, massacring a coop full of squabs for supper, or using phallic vegetables for things God may not have intended, this is both a very gastric and olfactory picture.

There are moments that don't gel and, at times, it feels as though director Steve Jacobs leaves matters to their own wayward devices. But this supposed lack of control just adds to the overall anarchic eddy of the film whole.

Its black comedy with hints of the surreal and the supernatural, but not perhaps as dark and inventive as, say, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. (Although there is a Delicatessen-style mad butcher shop scene in which a woman is hysterically beheaded and her body parts thrown to a baying crowd of bloodthirsty oddballs.)

Lola Marceli - in the title role of Lola, The Spaniard - would get Indielondon along to any movie with her name in the credits (and not just because we want to have her babies). And in the end, its absurdist humour and wild melodrama just proves too infectious to by-pass.