Black Bread is, incredibly, Villaronga's first theatrical feature in a decade. (He's made the rare short, documentary, and TV project in the meantime, and is currently planning a miniseries about Eva Peron's visit to Spain.) Based on a novel by Emili Teixidor, Black Bread is a complex narrative and stylistic hybrid blending history, homophilia-phobia, humanism, and horror, even more accessibly than before. It's a festival crowd-pleaser that pretty much swept Spain's Goya Awards in February, albeit sadly still no shoo-in for theatrical release hereabouts.
Largely about how childish emotions betray adult hypocrisies — a la To Kill a Mockingbird — the 1944-set Black Bread operates on several levels, all thorny but vivid. Their core is the bewildered perspective of almond-eyed Andreu (Francesc Colomer), an 11-year-old peasant child who witnesses a gruesome crime at the beginning, only to find his father (Roger Casamajor) accused by a corrupt Fascist mayor eager to scapegoat a former Republican rebel. Dad must flee, and Andreu is sent by mom (Nora Navas) to live with his grandmother and aunts until the heat dies down.
Cramming an epic agenda into 108 minutes, Black Bread encompasses roiling coming-of-age emotions, folkloric streaks, a few shocking revelations (including pederasty), and hints of fabulism in a nearby asylum-slash-death camp whose inmates include an angelic young man without (or possibly with) wings. It's a terrifically orchestrated film, even if it feels somewhat overstuffed with ripe elements, almost over-accomplished in terms of slick showcase sequences — including a grotesque fever-dream of fag-bashing sadism — whose variably florid, stirring parts are less effective as a whole.
Still, those parts are often very stirring indeed, with excellent performances by the juvenile and adult actors. It's a movie most viewers will find unusually rich in complication and artistry. Why Villaronga hasn't had a half-dozen more opportunities to impress us over his skinny quarter-century output is anyone's guess. But it's surely everyone's loss.
Fri/29, 3 p.m.; Mon/2, 6 p.m.;
May 4, 9:15 p.m., $13
1881 Post, SF