Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Class of 2008: Candela Peña in Los Años Desnudos (Rated R)

This is part of the Supporting Actress Class-Of-2008 Blogathon hosted By StinkyLulu For more great entries go here.

For Your Consideration: Candela Peña in Los Años Desnudos (Rated R)

I know this choice is a hard one, and most of you haven't even heard of this little gem. But for those New Yorkers that were lucky enough to catch it during , at Lincoln Center, you know what I'm talking about. Last year, not that many actresses in the Spanish world impacted me from the very first scene as Candela Peña did in Los Años Desnudos (Rated R, or, literally, The Naked Years). Picture this: A thirty-year-old petite woman goes to an audition. She's very attractive, has done some indie theater and works as a supporting player in a drag show. No experience in cinema. As naive as she might sound, she's in total control. The person conducting the interview, a man that we never see, asks her "Aren't you hot in here?" A subtle way of saying why don't you take your clothes off. "Do you have any problems stripping down?"

She has no problem—or choice—in getting naked, and even after that, to give that little extra (why do we always do that?) to impress the man, she quotes lines from the play Doña Rosita the Spinster by the great Federico García Lorca. Sandra (Peña) wants to be a serious actress, and in the process, as confident as her audition is, lets the Rosita character take charge, and all her sadness and vulnerability comes alive. "I don't know why I'm talking like this," she recites. "I don't like you looking at me like this. I'm bothered by those faithful dog looks. Those pitying looks disturb me and annoy me." She might be performing as Rosita, but there's something about this scene that struck me: her expression. At this point the camera is focused on her face, rather than her naked body. As soon as she's done, he tells her they might call her, and with a big smile on her face she asks him if she can get dressed.

Welcome to Spain in the late seventies post-Franco era, a dictator who ruled the country for 40 years, where sexuality and personal expression was repressed. Once he died, those censorships ended and people quickly found a way of expressing their new-found freedom throught cinema: cine del destape (literally, "uncovered films"), low budget erotic films with no content whatsoever, beyond naked women. That's the main premise of Los Años Desnudos, which follows the lives of three actresses from different walks of life at the boom and fall of cine del destape, where women's rights, machismo, the AIDS crisis and drug use all come together in this provocative film. This is not a Sex and the City episode with an Almodóvar twist; think Boogie Nights but with more social implications. As people in Spain were going through a historic transition, these women were told by the men in the industry that they represent freedom... but still in a machista way. And as often happens, freedom comes with a price, and for these liberated women, the stigma was attached to them from the beggining.

Out of the three chicas, Peña offers the strongest performance. Her take on Sandra, a desperate-for-love girl, who has no support from her family and has been dumped by every man she meets—even her friend the drag queen has fired her because of her "lousy movies"—is quite unique. She finds strength in her work as an actress; she knows that might be her way out of the cine del destape.

If you still don't know who she is, you might remember Candela in All About My Mother or Princesas; she's as confident and outstanding here as in those previous movies. Los Años Desnudos is far from perfect, however, but I do believe that this a great achievement for both directors Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso since I just watched their first movie, a bad gay comedy! As I said at the beginning, it was a hard choice, but who knows, maybe on your next trip to Barcelona or Madrid you might be able to catch it and adore Los Años Desnudos as I did.

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