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© 2015 ELS FILMS DE LA RAMBLA S.A. ||  VENTURA PONS

David is 20 years old and newly arrived in Barcelona in search of an opportunity. Gràcia, a lonely 60-year-old woman, offers him free room and boarding in exchange for his companionship.

Will they realize that have more in common than meets the eye?

 

VENTURA PONS

2011
YEAR OF GRACE
YEAR OF GRACE

David is 20 years old and desperately wants to leave his small town and see the world. His best friend Marçal drives him to the local train station after David’s parents forgot to take him. After arriving in Barcelona, he looks upon his new city with amazement. Eager to begin his new life, David settles into the tiny but culturally affluent community of Gràcia.

 

Gràcia is, as well, the name of a bad-tempered 60-year-old woman, passionately fond of playing cards, that was expecting to live with a girl in exchange for companionship. Aside from being a boy, David does not bode well with Gràcia. The boy lies convincing her that he too has a passion for cards. Against her instinct, she takes him in and lays down her two unbendable rules of the house: “no women, no drugs”. She tries to predict David’s future with her Tarot. To her amazement, the cards reveal a bright future.

 
YEAR OF GRACE
VO/ ENGLISH SUB
 
YEAR OF GRACE
 
YEAR OF GRACE

 

YEAR TO YEAR, DAY BY DAY.

 

Almost a year ago a neighbour of mine, who lives in the flat downstairs, a terrible pipe-smoker former politician, told me of an acquaintance of his who lives in a town on the Catalan coast who claimed that he and I had gone to school together. He talked about a religious boarding school in the foothills of the Pyrenees and set our friendship in the boring, dreadful, hateful 1950s when the Franco dictatorship was at its height. Evidently I recognised the place, since it formed for some years the backdrop to my childhood, but not the person of whom he spoke. Quite simply, no matter how hard I tried to remember him, I could not place him at all.

 

One evening a month later, I was rushing out of my house to buy some books. Early next day I was to catch a trans-Atlantic flight in order to attend an important film festival in North America and I needed something to read to while away the hours on the plane. I was feeling a bit harassed - in a short while I would have to come back to pick up my car, attend a supper, catch a few hours sleep, pack my bags and set off for the airport. At the doorway of my building a man came up to me and introduced himself as the schoolmate my neighbour had told me about. Sure enough he had with him an old photograph where the two of us appeared dressed as choirboys, the most powerfully symbolic evocation of the Catholic education of that time.

 

I apologised for my poor memory and for my lack of time to stop and talk with him but he offered to accompany me to the bookshop and back to the car park since he had an hour to spare before collecting his son. ‘Ah!’, I said, ‘so you have a son in Barcelona?’ And then he explained that it was his son’s second year at university, and that during the first year, as part of a student programme organised by the City Council, he had shared the flat of a bad-tempered old woman who was an expert card-player. During that year the woman had infected the young boy with her card addiction. The following year the son, fed up of the arguments, had found a flat for himself and was no longer living with her, but very often they met up to play a few hands of cards. Clearly then the woman had passed on to him her passion for cards, her vice, and it was now in his blood.

 

Immediately I realised that this was a very special situation, unusual, yet very attractive, one that could be worked into a comedy. Yes, I thought that it was a perfect story for a comedy. A 20-year-old boy arrives in the city to study and to make his way in life. He shares a flat with an irascible 70-year-old woman who offers him a place to sleep in exchange for his companionship. Living together is difficult but they have no alternative but to stick it out. Is it the loneliness of those two characters a reflect of our society? Is it that in the end we all need each other? And from here begins the screenplay of Year of Grace (Any de Gràcia).

 

I like to go back to comedy, a genre in which I have always felt very comfortable. It allows you to talk about serious things, without traumas. At the same time through this genre it is much more easy to catch the complicity of audiences everywhere. I believe that this story, and its setting will allow me to progress along the road which attracted me so much and which is nothing but the opportunity to combine my filmmaking with the thematic implications which emanate from our generational, social and cultural environment. The story portrays a microcosm, which is, at the same time, tragic and comic, intense and light-hearted, transparent and complex, wise and naïve, mature and tender but above all universally moving.

 

What interests me in Year of Grace (Any de Gràcia) is, on the one hand, the world in construction of young David and, on the other, the established world of Gràcia (Grace), the irascible woman. These are two opposing yet complimentary worlds. However neither one is so pure nor the other so villainous and I believe that the essence of the story lies in the various nuances of the main character’s motives. It appears to me that it is necessary to explain them all together in the simplest manner possible and that the most important part is that I submerge myself in the interior of the two characters where so much truth is contained for dissection.

 

I find it hard to define my style of filmmaking. Furthermore I do not believe that I am the most suitable person to do so. I always try to find very personal themes which affect me greatly and which adhere to a very personal style. The stories that I choose are neither easy nor conventional, they always contain some implicit risk. These are stories that are based on characters, and this is due to the great pleasure I obtain from working with actors. I am from the school of acting, of characters, of words… I have always liked directors as varied as Mankiewicz, Rohmer, Bergman or Woody Allen... On the other hand, and I think that this is quite clear in my movies, I am extremely attracted by the urban landscape of Barcelona. In this case, it seems to me that there is a very profound relationship between the city and my work…. And much more if the film is located in Gràcia, the now famous young district where I was brought up.

 

Year of Grace (Any de Gràcia) is not only a story that I enjoy but also one that works well with the type of films that I like to make; based mainly on characters which allow me to work with a strong cast of actors who come mainly from the world of theatre. When directing, mutual understanding with the cast is something that I consider absolutely necessary. I need the existence of a great deal of it. I like to talk about the details, the motives of the characters of the stories, which we are creating together. I firmly believe that their theatrical discipline helps immensely to build the films that I direct.

 

A film is made up of three elements: the story, the narrative and the cast. If these do not go well together or one of the three fails, the final result will be more than suspect. This project stars with an exceptional Catalan actress, Rosa Maria Sardà, with a strong performance, as well Oriol Vila, a very talented 18 years old actor. Let me tell about Sardà. Her first appearance in a movie was in mine El Vicari d’Olot (1981) and since then, she has worked with the most important Spanish film makers: Berlanga, Gómez Pereira, García Sánchez, Herralde, Colomo, Bajo Ulloa, Almodóvar, Trueba... and in other five of my films: Actresses, Caresses, Beloved/Friend, Anita takes a chance, Barcelona (a map). Her performances are a real master class in each one of them, she can play drama, comedy, she is always the best!

 

So, after having shown in my previous works my interest in most “transcendent” stories, I heard again the call of comedy. Perhaps because in the experiences of the son of my old mate I found a good story. A good story, yes, the mother of it all, of all films, which allowed me a cast of those that I could trust blindly. Or perhaps I was fascinated by the possibilities of a symbiosis with the type of humor based on these beings, so fragile at the bottom of their hearts, in the daily struggle in a neighborhood as unique as Gràcia. Gràcia and them, Gràcia and us. Gràcia is the landscape of my childhood and adolescence and, although it has changed so much since then, the district still keeps a magical personality, attractive, unique. It is the sum and the pleasure of all this, adding rigor to the narrative concept and also to the value of staging and to the acting. Emotion and tenderness of beings in a unique place and, as in so many of my films movies, searching a bit of accomplishment and communication in the middle of the maelstrom of the times that we live.

 

Intensely. Year to year, day by day.

 

Ventura Pons

 
YEAR OF GRACE

 

CREW

A production of

ELS FILMS DE LA RAMBLA, S.A.

 

with the participation of

TELEVISIÓN ESPAÑOLA, S.A.

TELEVISIÓ DE CATALUNYA, S.A.

 

Screenplay

VENTURA PONS

JAUME CUSPINERA

CARME MORELL

 

Director and Producer

VENTURA PONS

 

Line Producer:

MAITE FONTANET

 

Music:

MAZONI SANJOSEX

EL PETIT DE CAL ERIL

ILLA CAROLINA

GATO PÉREZ

ÈRIC VINAIXA

 

Director of Photography:

SERGI GALLARDO

 

Editor:

MARC MATONS

 

Art Director:

BEL·LO TORRAS

 

First assistant director:

CARLES VALERO

 

Direct Sound:

NATXO ORTÚZAR

 

Lab:

IMAGE FILM

 

Sound & Editing Studio:

INFINIA

 

Spain and Andorra Distribution:

ALFA PICTURES S.L.

 

International Distribution:

LATIDO

 
YEAR OF GRACE
 
 
YEAR OF GRACE

Festivals:

New York (Lincoln Center, US)

Guadalajara (Mexico)

Chicago (US)

Seattle (US)

Bogota (Colombia)

Galway (Ireland)

Santo Domingo (Dominican Repubic)

Seoul (South Korea)

Cluj Napoca (Romania)

Montpellier (France)

Alexandria (Egypt)

Puerto Rico (US)

Caracas (Venezuela)

Sao Paulo (Brasil)

Quito (Ecuador)

Havana (Cuba)

Mexico D.F. (Mexico)

Köln (Germany)

 

Awards:

Chicago Latino Film Festival (US)

Gloria Award Ventura Pons, Sant Jordi Award Ventura Pons (Spain)

Galway Festival, Galway Hooker Award (Ireland)

 

YEAR OF GRACE

TO VENTURA PONS, FOR ALL THE YEARS YOU HAVE GRACED US WITH YOUR CINEMA: THANKS 

 

Catalan cinema is largely unknown to most of the world. Its scale is commensurate with the size of Catalonia’s territory and resources, but limited by the camouflage History has subjected it to, crouching behind the presence of Spanish cinema. The fact that practically everything shot in Catalonia before the Civil War has been lost is a tragedy; after that conflict, it was harshly repressed. Nevertheless, Catalan cinema was courageous, tough, and more universal in its aspirations than cinema elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. In spite of this, much of the world remains unaware of its existence and its specificity; perhaps its most renowned figure is still Salvador Dalí, for his brief but brilliant contributions with Luis Buñuel!

Ventura Pons belongs to Catalan cinema, and to Catalan cinema he has dedicated all his enthusiasm and imagination, all his talent. Ventura Pons comes from a highly educated, enlightened background; and like many, he used his opposition to the Franco regime as a launching pad into his career. He found sustenance in the need to survive and exceed that mendacious, mediocre way of making movies that prevailed throughout the country. He paved the way for and was a leading player in the transition to democracy after the Dictator’s death. He worked first in theater, where he became a major voice in Barcelona, but gave up the stage when he began to direct movies, so as not to divert his attention from what he truly enjoyed most (although he still finds theater to be a constant source of inspiration).

Catalan theater and cinema, in Catalan. There have been no exceptions, no concessions, no giving up, no deals made, no vacillation. Not only because of his ideological convictions, but because it is the only way in which Ventura Pons can express himself naturally without lying to others or lying to himself. To do otherwise would be to operate within the confines of an artificial set of norms, and he would probably be the first to find such work unpersuasive. Ventura Pons’s work goes back to 1978, three years after the Dictator’s death. His filmography spans the entire period where Catalonia has enjoyed freedom, a region that while still not independent, does have home rule. Ventura’s films coincide with the various phases of Catalonia’s progress as it moves to occupy its definitive place in the world. There is no Catalan director who, like Ventura Pons, has been consistently making movies, and as I said before, always in Catalan. There has been no Catalan director since then whose every film, directly or indirectly, has been about Catalonia and about us, the Catalans. Ventura Pons’s cinema is our backbone, our spinal column. In Catalonia we have an expression, el pal del paller (the main pole holding up the haystack). That is what Ventura Pons’s cinema is for us: it identifies us and we should be absolutely identified with it. I use the conditional because Catalonia is a complicated, psychologically abused country, and in spite of all its convictions, it is still incapable of loving itself unconditionally, without trauma, or yes indeed, without a certain degree of fear, call it prudence. Not only has Catalonia been incapable of loving itself unconditionally as a country; it has also been unable to love its citizens unconditionally. Of course, Ventura Pons is known, respected, and admired. Of course he has always been more or less successful, but like everything Catalan, he has to earn that love and that success every time, as if he had to start again from zero. That is a particularity of the country. This is not the time or the place to comprehensively analyze this idiosyncrasy, probably because Catalan society itself hasn’t dared to do so without making excuses or covering up. Its contradictions constitute a veritable syllabus and -go figure- the only director who has addressed them, more indirectly than directly, is Ventura Pons. I say indirectly because Catalonia has almost never been the central theme of his movies, but Catalanity flows, spills, and overflows through every pore of his films. From Ocaña, retrat intermitent (Ocaña, an Intermittent Portrait), through his most recent work, Any de Gràcia (Year of Grace), practically 40 years have gone by. They haven’t been easy, but they have done little to diminish Ventura Pons’s thirst for emotion, enjoyment and excitement. During that period, we have observed his gaze in a broad sampling of what we could call an explicit catalog of the country’s sense of humor, a clear-cut statement of support for some of Catalonia’s most intriguing and explicit playwrights, obsessively naked confessions, parties that foreshadow the Musical that Ventura Pons still owes us, hyperbolical comedies and shrewd social portraits, and an intense admiration for acting. Some of this talent are his personal favorites, the female side of which is perfectly represented in Actrius (Actresses), that watershed film that brought together Núria Espert, Anna Lizaran, and Rosa Maria Sardà, which is tantamount to mentioning the three contemporary Catalan divas, in addition to a myriad of friends and acquaintances who could easily stand out in any corner of his films.

Since Ventura Pons’s most recent film is Any de Gràcia and the main character is portrayed precisely by Rosa Maria Sardà, who has been a constant fixture in his filmmaking, allow me to point out that this actress, so admired in Catalonia and Spain, adored and feared because she is quite a character, belongs to the brief but extraordinary tradition of women of theater and cinema capable of being great tragedians and outstanding comic actors: Katherine Hepburn, Carol Burnett, Anna Magnani...I could go on and on. The fusion of these two masks, of tears and smiles, opens the perspective of a Ventura Pons who does not forego any option, possibility or outlook, someone who can be just as sincere in the grief and density of a mature film such as Amic/Amat (Beloved/Friend), as he is in Carícies (Caresses), an emotional jigsaw puzzle of infinite variations, or in Què t´hi jugues, Mari Pili? (What’s Your Bet, Mari Pili?), a hilarious attempt at desacralized entertainment. Ventura Pons’s cinema is not a potpourri: it is a cinema of marvel, a cinema that is baffled by the infinite possibilities of art and popular sentiment. Ventura Pons’s cinema encompasses an intelligent compendium where the author must always be able to respond to his time, but where, especially, he must be able to respond to the possibilities offered him by “his” moment. Because a movie director does not exist outside of life, and his life and Life have to meet and become acquainted with each other every time. In this way, in certain periods, Ventura Pons has been more intimate or more choral, darker or more colorful, more imaginative or closer to reality, more secretive or more accessible, more doubtful or more confessional. But never, never has he pulled our leg, nor has he ever deceived himself. It should be said here that Any de Gràcia is an unconventional film. In a ferocious, unhappy, indecisive world that is groping in the dark, a world where forecasts are made every day that hurt, divide, isolate, and what is worse, manage to make us feel guilty about everything, predictions that try to make us believe that we deserve the punishment we receive and, even more so, the punishments to come, at that time of ruin and ruins, coinciding with the most powerful transformation of cinema and the media that we could imagine, a world that is still incalculable, still lacking in tools and the necessary systems, at a still critical moment ... yes, in that world, where denunciation and anger, pessimism and acrimony, finger-pointing and that licking of one’s wounds, oftentimes the refuge of the non-struggling vanquished, would seem to be appropriate, now, and precisely after emerging from the grimmest and most angry period of his moviemaking, Ventura Pons has shot a dynamic, comforting, optimistic and constructive comedy.

That’s what I call upholding the contrarian point of view. Or if you prefer, such is the nonconformism of someone who never considers things to be definitively resolved, someone who will never put a precipitous The End on his commitment to his time, his country, and all of us.

For these reasons and many others, for the numerous hours of pleasure, because he has never abandoned us, because the next Ventura Pons film has always been a surprise, and because there are still many upcoming Ventura Pons creations waiting to be unpacked, here, today, with all of you, as Anabel Campo Vidal once said, I give you “a free gaze,” “a free Catalan,” and “the free films” of Ventura Pons.

Alex Gorina

Film Critic

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

 

'Grace' bridges generation gap

Breezy 'Grace' bridges Barcelona generation gap

 

In "Year of Grace" ("Any de Gracia"), the opening-night presentation of the 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival, a time-worn formula goes down nice and easy and practically rolls over and begs for a Hollywood remake: Cranky elder collides with raw youth, to life-affirming results.

Leaving his village and a dissolving home life for the urban wilds of Barcelona, Spain, college-age David (Oriol Pla) enrolls in a student program as in-home caregiver under the wary eye of Grace (Rosa Maria Sarda). She's a widow with a beloved parakeet, living above a bar frequented by aspiring artist David. Grace and David do not get along, until Catalan co-writer and director Ventura Pons engineers a thaw, first over games of cards, then over alcohol and other diversions.

 

Quick and breezy, the film has a really good score made up of Catalan pop singles, mostly in the key of Sensitive. An abbreviated romance between David and a fellow student (avid-eyed Diana Gomez) shows the Barcelona newbie what's possible in this new world. Though Sarda's role is pure situational comedy, with a pinch of pathos, she dines out on its possibilities.

Filmmaker Pons is this year's Latino Film Festival recipient of the Gloria Career Achievement Award. The film runs 87 minutes; it's in Catalan with English subtitles, and while the opening gala tickets run $65-$75, you're getting a movie, a reception, food, drinks, live entertainment and the whole package.

Michael Philips

MOVIE Critic

TOGOZAMOS

Wisdom is not inevitable. One gets the feeling that with the accrual of years and films, veteran filmmaker Ventura Pons exudes it like the sun gives off light. In his newest film, Year of Grace, we see the story of an old, mean curmudgeon helped into the light by a young, thoughtful artist. Just wording it like this makes me shudder, for in the wrong hands, this story could come off as trite and cheap, that art can save the world! and all you need is love! Instead, we get the feeling that there is no recipe, that it is messy and mundane as clipping toenails or going out dancing with friends. In this way, Year of Grace, much like life itself, is a comedy that’s sometimes tragic but ultimately a highly entertaining—in the holiest way— story of hope for all of us who make mistakes and persevere long enough to try and fix them.

Beginning with music, Pons’ style of scoring—at least in this film—means lyrics that matter with melodies mirroring emotive states in ways words cannot. Music opens the first scene with a not-quite-fevered strumming of an acoustic guitar tempered by a man’s voice (Mazoni) evoking the calm of James Taylor, a sound so creamy and soothing, listening to it is like slipping into a warm bed on a cold night.

The lyrics add a wonderful dimension, much like a narrator speaking in poem: “The river carries me off/and I didn’t say goodbye,” that fate, and not he, is responsible for his life. It’s an abdication of responsibility that smells ripe for change. The lyrics end: “And it’s what hurts me most,” this tragedy of not being able to say goodbye. You wonder if the character’s lament is for himself or for those he left behind. A reviewer for the Film Society of Lincoln Center said of the soundtrack: “The soundtrack is a veritable catalog of the best in new Catalan pop: Mazoni, Sanjosex, El petit de cal eril, Èric Vinaixa, Illa Carolina…” And its curating into this movie into the exact, right scenes demonstrates the adroit storytelling abilities of Pons.

This opening sequence introduces the main protagonist and hero, David (Oriol Pla). It’s a familiar scene of youth venturing out into the world, unhindered by baggage, motivated with hopes of wild sex, partying and finally becoming an artist. What makes this different from most scenes is that David-as-youth is much more complicated than what is usually portrayed in film. While he’s all about being in the present moment, he proves to be the harbinger of wisdom. We see him evolve, through sassing off to Grácia, professors and friends alike, to being humbled by circumstance. Perhaps in a time when American film stymies under the simplifying pressures to capitulate in the name of global appeal (and therefore, revenue), films such as Year of Grace feel like fresh air.

Arranged through a school program, David stays with Grácia, the Archie-Bunker/Melvin-Udall monster of a woman who seems unsalvageable. And like her nasty counterparts, Grácia is funny enough to spare us in the pews from having a panic attack. When David first arrives at her apartment, Grace interrogates the social worker arranging the homestay. “I hope he’s not like the last one, who didn’t even have the decency to flush the toilet after using it!” she hisses. Listening in the hallway, David and the sweet and silly neighbor, Enriquetta, react. “You flush?” Enriquetta asks, without missing a beat. “Yes,” David responds. Enriquetta sighs in relief. This is so funny in such an effortless, classic way. Over and over, Pons fills the movie with these nasty bits of Grácia, leavened by silly and very smart humor.

In the very next scene, “Like a knife that cuts a whole day into pieces,” is the first line of lyrics that accompanies David, as he walks around Barcelona. Smiling and full-on stride, David walks with purpose, joy even. But the lyrics capture and extend the trauma of the previous scene. Fortunately, David seems unaffected. Is it his youth? Is he simply unaware? While this is a story of the collision between two different ways of being in the world, rooted in age, the question arises: Do you have to be young to be full of hope? And does growing old necessitate the Grácia effect?

These universal fixtures of old-means-damaged and young-means-unabated provide a place for creativity and improvisation for Pons, and really, for the writers of this wonderful script, Carme Morell, Jaume Cuspinera and Pons, himself. While each character enjoys a complexity beyond the stereotype, it is together that they eventually enable the savoir-faire hidden in each other.

Ultimately, it is this complexity that provides a crucial realism to the movie. And just to be sure to ground the tale by honoring true and timely issues that young folks like David face, there’s even room for commentary on the truly scary state of not only Spain’s economic woe but the perilous state of all young people. Seen as yet another contour to a truly well-directed film, the inclusion of this type of realism offers a subtle nudge to the psyche, as if to strain just enough to be taken seriously by all of us, young and old alike. Truly this is not a Disney fairy tale but something closer to the comedy version of the Brothers Grimm.

No one was born mean, joy unfulfilled can turn to rot and sometimes it is the suffering we do for each other that can give us the chutzpah and grace to live the best versions of ourselves. Bottom Line: Gorgeously shot, very well cast, Bob Dylan-esque soundtrack and a smart story that will feed your soul while making you laugh, Year of Grace takes you to the edge only to bring you back with crackling writing fueled by erudite understanding of that quality that’s usually attributed to G-d, grace.

Corey Nuffer

Year of Grace, much like life itself, is a comedy that’s sometimes tragic but ultimately a highly entertaining—in the holiest way—story of hope for all of us who make mistakes and persevere long enough to try and fix them. David is 18 years old and newly arrived in Barcelona in search of an opportunity. It’s a familiar scene of youth venturing out into the world, unhindered by baggage, motivated with hopes of wild sex, partying and finally becoming an artist. What makes this different from most scenes is that David-as-youth is much more complicated than what is usually portrayed in film. Arranged through a school program, David stays with Grácia, the Archie-Bunker/Melvin-Udall monster of a woman who seems unsalvageable. And, like her nasty counterparts, Grácia is funny enough to spare us in the pews from having a panic attack. Their coexistence becomes, from the start, explosive. Will they realize in time that they need each other? One of the great stars of Spanish cinema, Rosa Maria Sarda, is featured alongside rising star Oriol Pla in this sharply observed comedy by one of Spain's best-loved auteurs, a keen and ever-surprising tale of desire looking for new forms of expression. The soundtrack is a veritable catalog of the best in new Catalan pop: Mazoni, Sanjosex, El petit de cal eril, Èric Vinaixa, Illa Carolina… ??

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