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Saturday, 13 March 2010

Film - Retorno a Hansala - directed by Chus Gutiérrez

Star rating – 8/10

Another offering in the Cornerhouse’s Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, this gentle and subtle film nevertheless gives a hard political message. Martin (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) owns a funeral home in Algeciras, Spain, on the Strait of Gibraltar. He gets the call to come and deal with a number of dead bodies which have been washed up on a nearby beach, not a particularly unusual occurrence for the area. He finds a phone number in the hand of one of the bodies - enter Leila (Farah Hamed) who has the heartbreaking task of identifying her younger brother.

There is not much of a back story, but we do know that Martin is struggling financially after recently separating from his unfaithful wife. He therefore accepts Leila’s request for him to help her to return her brother’s body to their village in Morocco, and asks to be paid quite a sum for doing so.

There is no fast paced action in this story, just the gentle unfolding of a terrible tale of people seeking to escape the grinding poverty of their lives in rural Morocco, and risking, and very often losing , their lives in the attempt to escape to the relative wealth and opportunities in nearby Spain. The two leads play their parts very convincingly and with dignity and understated emotion.

The journey that Leila and Martin embark on is a life changing but very unusual road trip. Martin is humbled by the reception he receives from the whole of Leila’s village. Leila is guilty about providing the money for her brother to try to escape in the first place. The unfolding understanding of each other’s situations is very beautifully played. And the tale is told against the backdrop of the haunting tragedy of so many people losing their lives in a bid to make something better of them.

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