Star rating – 7/10
This gentle Spanish film, being shown as part of the excellent Cornerhouse annual Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, is beautiful and sad and touching in a very understated way. It is set in the harsh world of Bilbao in 1974, which the brutal Franco machine is in full swing against any opposition, and the proud and defiant Basque people in particular.
Asier (Bingen Elortza) is a fourteen year old boy who is developing into adolescence with a couple of disadvantages, as he sees it. He is colour blind in a family of artists, where to see and paint the people and landscapes around them is a talent which is regarded above all others by his artist father, played by Aitor Mazo, who also wrote and co-directed the film. Asier is also very short sighted, and chooses not to wear his glasses to band practice in order to impress the lovely, slightly older and wiser girl in the band who has captured his young heart.
His wayward older brother Mateo has given up painting artistically, to the disapproval of their father, and chooses instead to paint doors for steady money. He and his friend taunt the authorities and long to escape the tight confines of life under Franco. Asier is desperate to impress his sweetheart, and wants his brother to show him how to paint her portrait before she leaves Bilbao with her family.
There are very comical vignettes in the piece, like the women who want to know how much her husband really earns at the factory where nearly everyone is forced to work. Asier’s father resists giving her the information for a long time, in a very humorous way, not really wanting to break the unspoken male code, whereby plenty of their earnings can be put by for beer without their wives knowing a thing about it.
The title is translated as ‘The Cloud Painting Machine’. It’s not an earth shatteringly interesting film. It is slow paced and understated; it is sad and funny. But its themes of young love, and of artistic and political freedom are powerful. Bingen Elortza is a strikingly beautiful boy, and Bilbao is strikingly unattractive and industrial. Not the most likely place for dreams to flourish, but this film gives hope to us all.