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Solas (Alone)

October 18, 2007

María, a young woman living on her own in a poor barrio in Seville, is obliged to put her mother up for a few nights, after her father is admitted to hospital. As he recovers, and before they can return to the village from which they came, the two women bicker and fight, and pull themselves in opposite directions, debating their fractured relationship.

María – angry, feisty, struggling and stressed – blames her father for her ills, for him being an authoritarian bully, and cannot understand why her mother hasn’t abandoned him long ago. But, as the days drift on, the two women develop a gradual, touching, personal understanding of each other’s unhappiness, loneliness and the reasons for their respective abilities to survive.

Her mother, in one of the most moving themes in the film, develops a heartwarming relationship with the old gentleman who lives downstairs from María, drawing him out of his own loneliness, with all the innocent tenderness of a true love affair; this plays in stark counterpoint to the dead-end nightmare of María’s awful, pointless, abusive boyfriend. A powerful strength grows between María and her madre, and they realise that the only real way forward is, as Dylan said, to keep on keeping on: “Defeat is not the enemy’s triumph, admitting the defeat is”.

This isn’t as bleak or as slow as it sounds, in fact it’s 100 minutes that goes by in the blink of an eye, but the point that’s really made in Benito Zambrano’s film is that detail counts; that the small gesture can be devastating, that the briefest exchange can alter the course of people’s lives. After trying to discover Spanish film through the showy Madrileño brio of Almodóvar, it is refreshing to see a movie that embraces the srength of women in the face of poverty and isolation, and that does it by so many careful and considered steps. Solas covers a lot of the same ground that Volver managed with such entertaining flash and colour, but with economy and sobriety and much, much less sentimentality.

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