Facing The Wind (Con el viento)

Spain (2018) Dir. Meritxell Collel Aparicio

We all have our own coping mechanisms. Others may not share or understand them but if it helps us get through a hard time and isn’t hurting either us or anybody else, then we should be left to our devices. But, this doesn’t help when half the problem you are facing involves reconnecting with those closest to you, the ones who should be there for you.

Mónica (Mónica García) is a 47 year-old dancer and choreographer based in Buenos Aires where she has lived for twenty years. When she gets a call from home that her father is gravely ill, Mónica returns to the small rural village in Spain she grew up in but arrives too late to see her father one last time, which doesn’t sit well with her sister Berta (Elena Martín) and cousin Elena (Ana Fernández).

Now her mother Pilar (Concha Canal) is alone, she decides to sell the family home and needs Mónica to stay with her and help get things in order. Mónica finds it hard to stay around a hostile family and return to the farm life she left behind, whilst struggling to support her mother. To help get through it, Mónica turns to the one thing she is good at – dancing.

Facing The Wind is the debut film from Spanish writer-director Meritxell Collel Aparicio, and whilst this might sound like an obtuse thing to say, it doesn’t feel like most Spanish films I have seen. Granted, many have been from either Almodóvar or big studio thrillers or comedies, with the arthouse side the less represented, but they had something in them that was palpably Spanish.

Perhaps it is the deliberate, natural filming style, occasional static scenery shot, or the painfully silent longueurs, but this felt more akin to the earlier works of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with a touch of Eastern European melancholy thrown in for good measure. Even the bucolic landscapes are so far removed from the idyllic sun drenched Spain we all familiar with, replaced by chilly, wind battered vistas that only conjured up images of despair and loneliness.

The theme of the film is about Mónica reconnecting with her family, and returning to her home town allows her to let go of whatever anxiety and guilt she may have been holding onto. But, it would have been nice if Aparicio actually let us in on what it is that Mónica is feeling because nothing is conveyed, aside from the obvious guilt of not being able to say goodbye to her father in person.

It is important to note that whatever success Mónica had as a dancer and choreographer in Argentina hasn’t gone to her head, and she doesn’t return as an entitled diva in need of being brought back down to earth. That is a trope thankfully eschewed for this story and is all the better for it. The only disagreeable behaviour comes from Berta and Elena since they never left the country.

Mónica also regrets her father never saw her dance, and through this, it is implied the family weren’t much for travelling or didn’t own a TV or computer. But because the first hour is mostly dialogue free, we can only infer from this that this is a typically hidebound rustic family unit where ambition beyond upholding the traditional farming lifestyle is frowned upon.

Again, this is all assumption, as Pila and by all accounts, Mónica’s father didn’t begrudge their daughter pursuing her dreams in dance and were very supportive. Pila shows no signs of animus towards Mónica, nor does she reign in the others for theirs, presumably as they keep a civil tongue in their heads in Pila’s presence, leaving her unaware of the tension.

Berta is the more hostile of the two, with Elena never showing any anger and Berta’s limited to one outburst, which isn’t actually that explosive at all, more a brief venting of possible pent up jealousy, then nothing more. The silence is deafening but normally it has to have some foundation for the audience to follow the story without anything being spoken, but we aren’t afforded that here.

No doubt I am not looking deeply enough to find what it is Aparico wants us to and appreciate the nuance behind this muted affair. Judging by the few highly rated reviews for this film online, I am in the minority in needing a little more information from the situation to be able to fully relate to and understand the characters’ feelings. Luckily, the cast are suitably committed to their roles and to living out the drama with some degree of conviction to make it reasonably palpable.

In between the moody silences and abstract diversions of Mónica’s dance therapy – more modern interpretative dance than Strictly or twerking – the quotidian life on the farm is detailed through an earnest documentary style, as is the family card games and similar social events, lifting the mood considerable. A post funeral celebration involves lighting Chinese lanterns to send the deceased’s spirit to the heavens and is joyous event rather than a mournful one.

Despite being made to work doubly hard in reading between every single line just to get something from the story, one can appreciate the photography of the seasonal vistas of the Spanish countryside, even if they do lack any Mediterranean sunshine. Aparico is very much an observational director with arty leanings and a lust for realism, explaining her cast all being non-professionals. All are uniformly great in their roles, their chemistry undeniably the films biggest success.

Once again though, I find myself on the outside of something that has proven to be a powerful experience for others. There is a lot I liked about Facing The Wind but not as much as I had hoped, through Aparico’s reluctance to open up the salient details and tangible elements of the story. This might be seen as enigmatic for some, but sadly only ennui for me.