13 year old Sara (Laura Galán) is incessantly bullied by her peers because of her weight. On a hot summer day, after helping her dad out at his butcher shop, she heads over to the pool to cool off. There she endures harassment by the local girls who call her “Piggy” and stealing her backpack and shoes. When she makes the treacherous walk back home, she witnesses a mysterious stranger kidnaping the three girls who only moments ago were tormenting her. This man has been killing random people in the area but has a particular interest in punishing the people who hurt Sara. She’s conflicted by the attention given to her by this man and whether to help the local community find the girls before it’s too late.
Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, Piggy is enjoyable light horror with some problematic elements. It’s based on the short film by the same name released in 2018. It expands the story into a full length horror film. It reminded me greatly of the last 20 minutes of Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film Fat Girl. Both feature heavyset 13 year old girls who are favored by a much older serial killer and must endure the trauma of not being accepted because of their appearance.
In Piggy, the actress playing Sara is in her mid 30s yet the character is 13. The age difference is very apparent and we have to really suspend our disbelief in order to buy that the character is a pre-teen and not a grown woman. Also, there were a couple of scenes in which Sara devours junk food. These do not serve the plot whatsoever and could have easily been removed to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
Piggy premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Set during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, director Alejandro Amenábar’s While at War/Mientras dure la guerra takes place in Salamanca where celebrated novelist Don Miguel de Unamuno (Karra Elejalde) serves as dean of the local university. Unamuno, known affectionately as Don Miguel, was known as one of the early opposers to the uprising and Generalisimo Franco’s (Santi Prego) dictatorship. Don Miguel meets to discuss the fiery political climate with his trusted friends a protestant priest (Luis Zahera) and college professor (Carlos Serrano-Clark) who soon become victims of the new regime. The highly respected author is safe for the time being but as Franco rises in power, controlled by commander and tyrant Jose Millan-Astray (Eduard Fernandez), Don Miguel flails between the loss of hope and the desire to take a stand. During it all he is haunted by the memory of his dead wife Chanta who appears to him in his dreams. The movie ends with Unamuno’s famous last speech.
While at War offers a grand production, fine performances but lacked in emotion. The first half felt a little stale and distant. The second half makes up for this makes up for this as Don Miguel loses his friends, develops a bond with his grandson, and repairs his relationship with his daughter. Throughout the film Don Miguel creates origami animals and this ends up being an important plot point at the end. This was a nice touch that added some personality to his character. Elejalde is absolutely brilliant as Don Miguel de Unamuno. He seamlessly transforms himself into his character. I’m a big fan of Alejandro Amenábar’s film The Others (2001) and was excited to see more of his work. The cinematography, costumes and sets are simply glorious and worth watching for that alone. While at War offers a fascinating story I just wish it didn’t hold its audience at a distance.
I can only evaluate While at War as a film and not as a representation of Spain’s military history. I don’t know if there are any inaccuracies in its representations of real life figures. It does offer a clear warning that neutrality is dangerous and we need to appreciate the past if we have any hope of a future.
While at War had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.
Stations: Upstairs Downstairs TV Drama, Foreign Period Piece Time Travel Destination: Edwardian Era Spain, 1900s Conductor: Carlos Sedes
For fans of Downton Abbey, there is another upstairs-downstairs period drama with just as much intrigue and grandeur. Grand Hotel, or Gran Hotel in Spanish, is a television show from Spain that ran three seasons from 2011 and 2013. Set in 1905 in the Spanish countryside, the story follows the inner workings of a hotel that serves the wealthy elite. Run by the Alarcón family, Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) manages hotel with an iron fist. Running the hotel is a family affair along with her daughters Adriana (Amaia Salamanca) and Sofia (Luz Valdenebro) at the helm. The black sheep of the family, son Javier (Eloy Azorin), often disrupts his mother’s Doña Teresa’s tight control over her business. Much like in Downton Abbey, the upstairs family is closely connected with their team of downstairs servants. There is a mutual respect along with a strict code of conduct and high expectations for everyone involved at the establishment. The dynamic is slightly different here because both the Alarcón family and the servants work together to cater to a clientele. I always felt that in Downton Abbey, the Crawley family lacked purpose so it’s nice to see a working family instead.
You could easily call Grand Hotel Spain’s answer to Downton Abbey. This show offers viewers intrigue, murder, mystery, sex, deception all in the beautiful glory of Edwardian era Europe.
Episode 1: The Maiden in the Pond (La Doncella en la Estanque): On the night of the hotel’s party celebrating the installation of new electric lights, chambermaid Cristina (Paula Prendes), whose been accused by hotel boss Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) of stealing jewelry, has gone missing. A month later her brother Julio (Yon González) travels to the hotel to find her. Pretending to be the new waiter, Julio infiltrates the Alarcón hotel. Julio is brash and determined to find the truth. He tricks Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca) into thinking he’s a hotel guest so he can get some information out of her. Alicia has her own problems. Her strict mother Doña Teresa insists that she marry hotel manager Diego (Pedro Alonso) a man she doesn’t love. The news of their engagement upsets Alicia’s sister Sofia who, with a baby on the way, was hoping that her husband would be the next in line. As the first episode progresses we see a rapidly changing dynamics of Alarcón family and we get closer to the truth of what happened to Julio’s sister.
The series is based on an original idea by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira and is directed by Carlos Seda. All three have extensive background in producing original television programming in Spain. Like Downton Abbey, Grand Hotel is very much borderline soap opera especially with the various twists and turns the lives of the characters take. While Grand Hotel has its over-the-top moments, don’t expect a telenovela version of Downton because this not that at all. While the first episode lags a bit setting up the concept for the entire show, it quickly picks up in the second half. This is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama that will keep you wanting more.
I enjoyed the attention to period detail and how the hotel ushers in a new era with the reveal of their new electric lights. My husband spotted one anachronism which was Julio’s clip-on bow-tie. Otherwise, the costuming was very Edwardian specific.
Grand Hotel is premiering on the Southern California TV station KCET on Sunday January 28th 10 PM PST and on Link TV (available on DirectTV and Dish) on Monday January 29th 9PM EST. If you don’t have access to either of these channels, you can watch each new episode after it airs streaming on KCET’s website and LinkTV’s website for up to one week. Both channels will be airing all 39 episodes of the show’s original three seasons.
This show has been available on Netflix but in 45 minute increments rather than the 70 minute format that it was originally intended to be. Actress Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives writer Brian Tanen are currently in the process of developing an English-language version for ABC.
Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with lead actress Amaia Salamanca posting on this site very soon.