[ENTERTAINMENT]Dark humor lightens strain in Spain

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Dark humor lightens strain in Spain

A passage from the Koran says the gates of heaven open to he who can make his comrades laugh. Whether or not the Spanish director Fernando Trueba believes in God, he certainly espouses laughing in the face of adversity. Trueba's latest movie, "The Girl of Your Dreams" ("La Nina de Tus Ojos"), released in Korea last week, follows a similar formula to his 1992 Oscar-winning film "The Age of Beauty" ("Belle Epoque") ?characters creating joy, beauty and levity in a period of turmoil, darkness and doom.

In the new movie, Penelope Cruz stars as the siren whom no man can resist. On the surface, moviegoers will notice the contrast from the part she played in "Vanilla Sky," in which characters created despair in a period of peace.

Trueba is a master at using Spain's stormy history as a backdrop for black comedy. "The Age of Beauty" was set in the early 1930s, during the brief period between the fall of Spain's monarchy and the rise of fascism, Spain's short respite from oppression. An army deserter finds bliss on a sunny farm run by a genial man with four beautiful daughters (one played by Cruz). In "The Girl of Your Dreams," Spanish movie stars go to Nazi Germany to make a film in cooperation with the German movie-making ministry.

While Trueba conveys in his works how politics can impair artistic expression, and doesn't balk at denouncing tyranny, his stories unfold in easily-followed ways. "Democracy is a recent trend in Spain," Trueba told the JoongAng Ilbo. "We lived under Franco for more than 40 years; we can't lose our freedom, and our movies reflect that."

In "Girl," based loosely on a true story, Macarena Granada (Cruz) rejects romantic overtures by both the director of the movie Blas Fontiveros and the German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. In time, her heart begins to favor a Russian Jew who is working as an extra.

"The most beautiful period of Spain's history was when Arabs, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully," Trueba said. "So it is very natural that Macarena feels closer to the Jewish prisoner than the Nazi; she is sincere, pure and innocent and makes the right choice."

Why does Trueba do black comedy? Sometimes his actors seem to exaggerate or overact to make scenes more absurd. "My films have a sense of humor," Trueba said. "'The Age of Beauty' and 'The Girl of Your Dreams' are tragic comedies. For me humor is a way of thinking, looking at life and the world, that allows you to understand deeper meanings as well as endure miseries.

"I think making people laugh is the most beautiful thing in life," he said. "At the premiere of my first movie, 'Opera Prima' in 1980, people were laughing all through it, and it was a magic moment. Ever since, I have sought to make people laugh."

Trueba says he doesn't like labels, like "Spanish director." The whole world is his nation, he says. "I don't like a book, a movie or music more for being Spanish; I make movies to be watched all over the world. In fact, I like a Japanese movie, 'Tales of Ugetsu,' more than 99 percent of Spanish movies."

by Park Jeong-ho

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