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A captivating central performance and a nuanced air of emotional delicacy are the hallmarks of An Autumn Without Berlin, a somewhat chintzy title for an entirely unchintzy debut. Signaling its director, Lara Izagirre, as a name to watch in the sadly limited pantheon of Spanish women directors, Autumn traces the complicated return of a young woman to her birthplace with subtlety and careful eye on the emotional truth, eschewing the easy dramatics and sentimentality that it could easily have fallen prey to. Fest play would be merited for the best debut from a woman director that Spain has produced in 2015.
June (Irene Escolar) returns from Canada to her small town in the Basque country. After calling at the home of her agoraphobic ex-boyfriend Diego (Tamar Navas) and getting no reply, she heads home, where her father (Ramon Barea) likewise gives her the cold shoulder. The reasons for all the rejection, and for June’s return, are never explicitly supplied, but June seems to have suddenly abandoned the men in her life following her mother’s death and has now returned in search of redemption and a second chance.
Only her brother Aitor (Mariano Estudillo) and pregnant friend Ane (Naiara Carmona) offer June anything like a warm welcome, while her friendship with a small boy, Nico (Lier Quesada, angelic but not cutesy), generates some of the film’s most touching moments and counterpoints the poisoned relationships between the adults, who in fact are behaving like children.
After finding and reading a story of Diego’s about Berlin, June decides that they must go there together to live: the very title lets us know how far that particular project runs, whilst also intimating that the film’s real interests lie elsewhere. This is a melancholy, indeed autumnal study of how maturity is a question of sacrificing dreams to realities, delivered in an elliptical way that’s sometimes frustrating but more often effective. ‘Do you really want to know what I think?’ Ane asks June at one point in a film thick with such perceptive little exchanges, and the answer comes back: ‘I don’t think so, no.’
Better-known In Spain for TV than for film work, the almond-eyed, fragile-featured Escolar has only played a central filmic role once before this, but she seizes this new opportunity with both hands. Present in practically every scene – this is very much June’s film — it’s clear from the early close-ups that the dramatic pressure is going to be on her, and she duly delivers a low-key, naturalistic performance as a character who slowly comes to realize that dreams she has nurtured abroad are misplaced now that she’s back home. It’s a performance that’s best summed up by the lingering, intense final shot, close to five minutes long, showing June’s face mirroring the storm of emotions inside her. Both Escolar and the film have saved the best till last.
The men in Autumn are not as well drawn as the women (and even Ane represents a little too easily the road not taken by June). Navas indeed has the extremely soulful gaze of the young, troubled writer, but the script fails to access his inner life. He comes over as more invalid than anything else, and as less than a worthy match for June. Vet Barea always brings a touch of distinction, but his stubborn refusal to talk to June after she returns comes over as petulant and immature, and even Barea struggles to shake off that initial impression.
Visually, it’s aptly claustrophobic, with cloudy, breezy exteriors and shadowy interiors alike shot in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio to further heighten the effect. Some scenes strain a little too hard for significance. Joseba Brit Elola’s score is occasionally lovely, as it is through that final scene — the one which finally confirms An Autumn Without Berlin as the modest but quietly fine film it is.
Production company: Gariza Films
Cast: Irene Escolar, Tamar Novas, Ramon Barea, Lier Quesada, Naiara Carmona, Paula Soldevila
Director, screenwriter: Lara Izagirre
Executive producer: Gorka Izagirre
Director of photography: Gaizka Bourgeaud
Production designer: Koldo Jones
Costume designer: Iratxe Sanz
Editor: Ibai Elortza
Composer: Joseba Brit Elola
Sales: Gariza Films
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