UCL Bookshelf: ‘Julio Medem’

23 November 2007

Dr Jo Evans’ (UCL Spanish & Latin American Studies) new book, ‘Julio Medem’, analyses one of Spain’s most controversial directors, and is the first in a new Grant & Cutler series responding to a growing demand for film in Modern Language departments. Dr Evans examines Medem’s first four films: ‘Vacas’ (Cows, 1992), ‘La Ardilla Roja’ (The Red Squirrel, 1993), ‘Tierra’ (Earth, 1996), and ‘Los Amantes del Círculo Polar’ (Lovers of the Arctic Circle, 1998).

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“Julio Medem’s reputation extends well beyond Spain,” explains Dr Evans. “His first film was a beautiful, but odd film about the Carlist wars, cows, and Basque mythology, and it appealed to directors as diverse as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.”

Dr Evans traces this international appeal back to his family: “Medem was born in the Basque Country, but grew up in Madrid. He had a Basque-French mother and a German-Spanish father, and emphasised his Basque roots as a way of rebelling against his father in his teens. So his films reflect on the myth of geographic origins in a way that is particularly relevant to contemporary viewers. He also tackles changing perceptions of history, gender, the family and, of course, war. ‘Cows’ is about civil war and creativity, ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ is about the bombing of Guernica, and his most recent release ‘Caótica Ana’ refers to the invasion of Iraq.”

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Medem’s films are highly personal and poetic and can appear obscure to the first-time viewer, so Dr Evans’ aim was to try and make them as accessible as she could without undermining their complexity: “He has been linked to directors like Resnais, Bergman and Kieślowi, and his understanding of psychoanalytical theory can be seen in the way he updates Pascal’s wager in ‘Earth’ and in his reflections on desire as projection in ‘The Red Squirrel’. He is also famous for his blackly humorous use of the point-of-view shot – there are endless productive and complex ways of analysing this with reference to what film theorists call the ‘filmic gaze’, but I’ve tried to keep ‘Podsnappery’ in mind. Dickens’s description of the fabulously self-involved Mr Podsnap in ‘Our Mutual Friend’ is a wonderful introduction to theories of the gaze and our relationship with the ‘other’. I’ve tried to adopt that kind of transparency in this guide to convey the sense that, for all their visual complexity, a central thread runs through these films reminding us just how dangerous it is to see the world as a reflection of our own point of view.”

Dr Evans’s first book, a pioneering study of Spanish women’s poetry, was published in 1996, and she has published widely on Spanish narrative and film. She introduced film to the UCL Modern Languages curriculum in 1996 and has designed and taught numerous undergraduate and postgraduate courses on Spanish film and narrative. She recently advised on a BBC series about Spanish art - 'The Art of Spain' - and her latest article, on the 1950s director Juan Antonio Bardem, featured in the current edition of ‘Screen’.

Dr Evans will answer questions on the guide at its launch in the Grant & Cutler bookshop on 13 December from 6–7pm. For more information on ‘Julio Medem’, use the link at the top of this article.

Images:
Still from 'Cows', directed by Julio Medem

Dr Jo Evans