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:: La Spagnola

“La Spagnola” (The Spanish Woman) lives alone with her daughter in an Italian community, in a dusty Australian town. In a South Australian Film Corporation assisted story, illustrations of migrant feelings of living in a foreign country, racism and prejudices of the 1960s are shown. La Spagnola is the story of a sexy Spanish woman and her relationship with her daughter.

The Spanish woman is the imported Spanish Soap star Lola Marceli, a woman who we observe to develop numerous quirks with bemusement. She is seen to throw herself in front of her husband’s car as he leaves, clean the house on her knees and cover the floor and furniture in plastic. Her mental state also involves her to throw the pet bird out and cut her daughters long hair off at the sign of nits. We watch her give herself an abortion, and share her fantasies about revenging her husband’s mistress. Trapped in a role of the housewife she waits for the male provider, sleeping with two men to pay the rent. With an unmasked shrewlike temper Lola is a character to fall in love with, if annoying.

The lanky 14-year-old Lucia competes with feelings of jealousy at her mother’s sexuality, and the need to be responsible. She works after school at a doctor surgery to support the family income, where her father had neglected. She is also neglected by her mother’s selfishness. She believes in her father, although he had abandoned her also. It is a coming of age movie, and Lucia begins to wear make-up, look at boys, smoke cigarettes and take sleeping tablets. It is only when she leaves home that she can look after herself and not her mother.

Lucia as daughter of Spanish parents has a recognisable Australian dryness in her voice. While Lucia’s vocals do not have the elegance of her mother, she is humorous and likeable. Set in an industrial area with many migrants, Lucia is used as an interpreter at school for fellow students and also by a local doctor for patients, speaking English, Italian and Spanish. When a middle-aged man speaks a language that Lucia could not understand, she is told to “speak to him in Italian or Spanish”. Comedy also lies in interpretation, as Lucia changes the words for her classmates in one scene.
This is a time when capital punishment is part of the school system, and self governing teachers relay social order on migrant language and work requirements. Prejudices are returned by immigrants as is displayed in the hatred aroused by the line “my father left my mother for an Australian”. Such ‘us and them’ reality is formed by reliance on the network of immigrants found at the local factory.

This is also a time when females are the providers of the family meal. Lola is jealous of Manola who is able to provide a banquet for the family. The Australian mistress is insulted by the husband, Ricardo and the migrant network as not providing more sustainable food than rissoles. Australian food is even said to be the cause of Ricardo’s heart attack, less wholesome than Spanish / Italian diets. Similarly the dislike of mutton to the immigrant palette is illustrated. The migrant women use their home skills to support themselves through the selling of homemade tomato sauce and sausages. A side issue surrounds the killing of animals kept then as pets

Sex is an important part of life, and five sex scenes are shown. If good sex would keep a couple together then one would assume that the sexy Lola would have kept Ricardo by her side. The young lazy Australian mistress is seen to whore her love, while Lola is understood to prostitute in desperation. The story is of growing Lucia and her reflections on sexuality. Her mothers flaunt of her own sexuality, her ignorance of her daughters growing body and discipline with make-up, hair and dress pushed Lucia to love interest Alex Dimitriades, Lola’s boyfriend. The sexuality of different races are discussed in comparisons between Italian women and the Spanish, and also of the sexual drive of the Australian mistress. A masturbation scene with the single Manola is included.

This is a comedic story covering serious issues concerning sexuality and migrant feeling. Self references to problems in culture and prejudice is the base of laughter. The clash of cultures is shown via comparison in an absurd representation of reality in a new world. The rich music of another culture is used against driving images along the country roads. The noise is loud dancing vocals, the kind coming from the kitchen or neighbour’s garage transistor, and current music for the 1960s setting.
Many images contribute to provide both embarrassment and pity. Lucia must sleep nights listening to her mother’s sexual fumblings while strings of continental sausages hang from her bedroom roof. The house is lined with plastic walkways, while the couch is covered in plastic to protect from the harsh Australian dust. Shots of moans from an outside toilet provide chuckles. Their tiny cement-sheeting house sits alone on a large block backgrounded by an industrial plant.

This was the debut feature for director Steve Jacobs and partner producer Anna-Maria Monticelli, a project seven years in the making. Influenced by Monticelli’s own multicultural background the story was originally written in three languages. Language was as important to the casting as it was the storyline. Alice Ansara (Lucia) was chosen for her flair with languages, while Lola Marcelli and Lourdes Bardolome (Manola) were imported from Spain to give realism. Alex Dimitriades plays a part in this multicultural film as the Greek Stefano, although his lines in the film talk of Italians that could cause some confusion.

Much of the film highlights the comedy with centred shots of the house; chicken coup and scenery, while mid shots of body and face, close to the characters show their expression. This can be compared to the photography in the introduction of the dust storm sequence and the father Ricardo leaving. The effect of slow motion close-up of Lucia’s face and the domestic argument create an interest and emotion return slowly between the story’s comedy.
Look out for Aussie home cooking, the horse photograph and gradual language understandings.

Screening at Cinema Nova, Kino Cinemas, Brighton Bay Cinema, and Cinema Como