Welcome To The South
Film Festivities have been in abundance all around the globe, not least the current BFI in London. But one film which has just been released, and as far as I can tell has not heralded any actual awards, is selling tickets hand over fist; the Italian film Benvenuti Al Sud.......more importantly the storyline of which was destined to strike a chord, I think, with many......
I have a trip in the offing (well early next year) and was exploring the idea of taking the train with a couple of friends. This is to a village in Southern Spain and, as my friends are from the area known as Southern Spain they were keen to join in. But the actual conversation we had was more on the lines of me trying to describe and then pulling out a map of exactly where it was I was about to go – they being from the city of Seville which is further south than the village I am visiting so the familiarity was vague. Even my attempt to define the area by province (Almeria) met with Oh yes! then blank faces with any subsequent detail. The description east of Granada and south east of Madrid and directly south of Murcia would have probably created a clearer understanding. Phew!.
With Spain being a relatively big country and fitting into the polemics of north and south in a sort of skewed way on the map - this was always going to be difficult to determine by compass based reference. And, also like many European countries that has had its fair share of *border crossings of the invasion kind* not to mention the added autonomous provinces and regions that define and line the Spanish psyche - was also going to add extra detail into the mix.
No different in principle to any other country’s regions really, but in the interest of clarity:
So, there is Cataluña in the north headed by Barcelona and all things Barcelonan – north of that Girona with Port Bou at its uppermost, which is in many ways more French than some towns over the border. The Basque region, Pays de Vasco and Navarra in the north west enclaves, and proud too, with the Basque area seeking complete autonomy. Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia in the north and west on the pacific coast and then to the south of Extremadura, Andalucía. Which never fails to astonish me wherever I am that this only has bearing on how far south of north you are at any given time for you to be deemed in the south. With due respect to my friend's confusion and my non-map-reading-skills the village I am going to is not that well known unless familiar with the smaller area of Almeria and the fact there are a LOT of villages in Spain.
So when the location was finally understood, they went on to explain how, because of transport they tend to route north through Madrid or out to Galicia (for hols, University etc) and that even a few kilometres further north east their accents are misunderstood – hence them also having difficulty with my broken and heavy I-picked-up-an-accent-on-the-way Spanish. Seville people are used, they said, to the Spanish making fun of their accent.
On the stereotype list Bea said it equated with country yokels, the uneducated and unrefined, a sort of rival snobbery that I admit I have also seen broken down into miniscule territorial discussions on most of my visits to the mainland.
No different to the UK really, for example Nottingham is still getting stick from Sheffield about Robin Hood’s origins or is that the other way round? either way anything north of London still seems to be the backwater of the UK. And all points in between up for rivalry akin to what can only be described in terms of *football team status*; mini bickering when it suits, usually trumpeted by the local paper.
The village I am visiting has a neighbouring fishing village and is separated by the Rio Aguas (which is spectacularly famous for being san aguas as the area is officially semi-desert). But the Rio is The Line by which the two villages define themselves. The local Mexican Cantina describes itself as having The Best Food This Side of The Rio Aguas – a bit of a play on ‘Ol Mexico themes there but the *difference* does exist to play that card. The accents are fairly thick (ie; leaving the French tinged Cataluñan and getting progressively thicker and more guttural the further south you go), and the villagers seem to add extra ummpf in emphasis when mentioning the other village; sort of spat out in an almost guttural sounding dismissal. Of course they are not out and out rivals but the local politicians don’t half get some stick from the other’s village.
I totally got what Bea and her friend were saying about their accent acceptance – and the typical Sevillian - which they dismissed with so much *as if we care* we have pride in our city and our accents. Possibly with the subtext of poncy northern snobs etc., etc.,..
So I was pleased to see the storyline for the film Benvenuti Al Sud (Welcome to The South) which was released in Italy this month, pleased, not least because it’s a comedy. It follows on, and unashamedly copies from the French film Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to The Sticks ) of two years ago. This time with a northerner having to leave all things known-and-used-to and venture into the unknown South, complete with weird country rituals, odd food, eating habits, and general not-like-us-ness. And all the comic farcical stuff that I imagine could be reaped from that.
Apparently the Box Office has gone bonkers and the tickets have over sold Inception and all the major players in Italian cinema at the moment – a bit like the original French home-grown self parodying hit Les Visiteurs in 1993 ; the one when Jean Reno is a medieval knight and time travels into the future, and aside from the hilarious newfangled-ness of culture is shocked to find French gentry having *normal* jobs and no servants. Full of stuff the French psyche has had in bucket loads. A bit like, I suppose, the touristy view of the UK seen as tea shops (well actually they are literally springing up like a rash at the mo) but the Royal stuff, the red phone boxes and all those quaint things that you only find in episodes of Midsomer Murders or Hugh Grant films.
A typical idylic scene used in Midsomer Murders
I like the idea that fun can be got from this and that it has country-wide appeal (well Southern Italy is beautiful from a screen location point of view) I suppose the Nottingham/Sheffield equivalent would have to be a bit more ummm gritty, rainy and, well, Mike Leigh – in fact he’s probably already done one; but you’d probably only get the joke if a) you were from the north and b) steeped in gritty rainyness....Anyway.....
Benvenuti Al Sud Trailer
I speak more Spanish than Italian (I get a bit confused between the two cos I’m still learning) but I sort of get the idea that the central character who lives in Lombardy dreams of being a wealthy Milano film director and tries desperately to get transferred there through work. But the wanna-be-Milano gets transferred from Lombardy to Napoli - Castellabate in the south instead. And looking at the trailer does he eventually rescue the day by splashing a few denaro’s around? ummmm rich northerner being benevolent to the southerners he has just now befriended? nope I won’t be cynical it looks a pretty funny film.....and will have to wait as usual – why is the UK so slow with release dates for European film?
Anyway this kind of all-round-appeal-funny parody is refreshing. And without the *heavy* politics surrounding the divides of rich and poor (one of the irritants for these type of stigmas me thinks) it covers most bases on the difference scale. And Italy certainly has that; I think a reference was made to the fact that because the film is so successful it shows that Italians can overcome things like Northern League separatism. And sure, that phenomenon is no less introverted in most countries rich-poor areas wherever you go.
I just like the idea of difference being out-in-the-fresh-air-open to jokes and laughter. Being embraced rather than force fed an idea of unity from a political to do list (not that the truer idea of unity ever gets a fair airing from those quarters either).
And so I plan to visit Deep Southern Spain (if you are south of Murcia that is), and after the New Year, so hopefully will be around for the Moro’s y Cristiano’s festival which is nestled into the rich calendar of all things festive.
The last one I watched, after the formal day out, best-dressed-for-church bit was out of the way, was destined for a wee bit of bias on the side of the Moors along with some adaptational tweaking on the side of the Christians; as most of the boys had opted to be a Moor – ‘cos they had cooler costumes and massive swords – ahhhh you can’t beat a bit of reverse psychological rivalry!.
I know this is 10 mins but it sort of gives the idea of the whole involvement thing - Mojacar 2009
And back next Thursday 28th with some enigma! shhhhhhhh!