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Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
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Sunday, January 19, 2003

ChaChanzaa Comes but Once a Year
I spent most of the weekend working on my top-secret for-no-eyes-only ChaChanzaa project.

“What is that?” you ask. Well, every year my vanpool has a gift exchange, and being a very special vanpool, it’s a very special swap. We do a name exchange (getting more and more complicated since this was the third year, and we didn’t want to repeat anyone we’ve already “had” in the past), then we go off and create a present for the person we picked. That’s right, the gifts have to be hand-made. In previous years, I’ve made a deck of cards (made with rubber stamps, with the four suits representing the recipient’s interests—menswear, camp architectural icons, penises, etc.) and a home-bound journal with the iron-shavings-shifting bald-headed guy Wooly Willy on the cover (because the recipient looks just like Wooly Willy, well, before Willy gets a magnetic hairdo anyway). I’ve received a stop-animation video and a T-shirt (which came in some fabulous Junio-themed wrapping paper).

I’m pretty certain that no one from the vanpool reads this blog, but because secrecy is a key part of the ChaChanzaa ritual, and since ChaChanzaa falls on Jan. 24 this year, I’ll keep mum about what it is I’ve been cooking up until the blessed evening passes. Suffice it to say that I’m somewhere between a third and a half of the way done.

On Saturday evening after an excellent meal at the always superior El Greco, we went to see Hable Con Ella/Talk to Her. I saw it last summer in Paris, and although I enjoyed it (it was my No. 5 movie of 2002), I left the cinema wondering if I’d missed something since I didn’t have the benefit of English subtitles (my Spanish is good enough to not need them, but it’s still nice to have them in case of doubt). After a second viewing, I admire the film more—if I was of an academic bent, I’d be pondering a dissertation on animal images in contemporary Spanish cinema—but I enjoyed it less. There are some stunning moments—the first bullfight scene, the peculiar Caetano concert, or the dance performances, for example—that are amazingly effective at demonstrating how moving non-conversational communication can be; but overall I wasn’t as affected as I felt I should be, or as I felt Almodóvar wanted me to be.

I really liked All About My Mother—again with a healthy dose of “technical” admiration for the cleverness of his referencing of All About Eve—but I still missed the joy of his earlier movies. I feel like one of those Woody Allen cranks who long for his earlier, funny films, but I do miss the joy of silly movies like Entre Tinieblas or Que He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto? or the crazy elements in Mujeres al Bordo de un Ataque de Nervios. I don’t expect or want his movies to be laugh riots, but I long for that combination of laughter and sadness that has always been a big part of the appeal of all things Spanish for me. And not to get too film-studies on Pedro’s ample ass, but when the action of his films moves out of Madrid—usually for a plot-related reason—my enjoyment usually shifts too. I don’t know anything about his next film, La Mala Educación, except that it stars Gael García Bernal and Fele Martínez, but I hope it’s set in the nation’s capital.